Two days after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine consecutive minutes, Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce, like so many others in the sports world, posted a message on Instagram.
"There is an APPROPRIATE FEAR being a black man in America," Pierce captioned a close-up image of his face. "Feeling safe/protected is NOT an option for me. To think #JusticeforFloyd could easily be #JusticeforLloyd and it’s because we look alike (to those who discredit our existence). We are recycling hashtags and protests to no avail."
Floyd's death came just weeks after Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down in Georgia by two white men, and followed a centuries-long pattern of black people being needlessly and savagely killed by white men -- particularly, in more recent years, by police officers. The same week of Floyd's killing, a white woman in Central Park in New York called the police on a black man, Christian Cooper, and used racist language toward him.
Pierce has been an outspoken voice for racial justice in his time as the Hawks' head coach, partnering with the Georgia Innocence Project to help free wrongfully convicted criminals and recently participating in a panel discussion for the NBA's roundtable series. He encourages his players to be involved in the Atlanta community and, as a black man in America, understands both the power of his voice and the weight of the issues on which he speaks.
"My voice as an African American voice, probably the biggest African American voice in our organization as a head coach, if I have the fear, who else has it?" Pierce told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Sarah Spencer on Saturday. "And there are a lot of people who have it, which we understand, so it has to happen. And it has to happen for a lot of reasons.
"At the end of the day, I may not be the Atlanta head coach down the line, or whenever that comes to an end," Pierce said. "But I’ll always be a black man. So, I carry that all the time.”
The Hawks sent out an internal memo this week, signed by Pierce, Koonin, and several other prominent members of the organization, that condemned "recent and recurring examples of weaponized racism, police brutality and race-based preferential treatment across the nation."
Hawks players sent out messages of hope, grief, anger, and support on social media:
De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish shared this video on their Instagram stories:
While much of the outrage being displayed across the country is justified, Pierce added that it's important to use this time as an opportunity to better our nation and formulate a plan for how to combat systemic racism in America.
"Now that we’ve showed our emotions, now what? We need to plan, we need to plot, we need to mobilize, we need to strategize," Pierce said, alluding to what Atlanta rapper Killer Mike said at Friday night's protest in Atlanta. "We need to do more than express anger and emotion."
The Hawks will host a "workshop and conversation" on race next Friday, Spencer reported, which will be hosted by Al Vivian and feature a panel of Pierce, Koonin, Mackey, and former Atlanta police chief George Turner.
"[Atlanta] is the cradle of the civil rights movement," Koonin said. "And it’s important that our employees feel both connected and protected. We want them to understand that we want to create a better world and a better environment and a better city."