The world has seen the gut-wrenching killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin as his colleagues refused to stop a murder in progress.
Many sports figures have already responded strongly, but those responses are often thrown into a usual athlete stew of “athletes speaking out” with less attention to exactly what they are speaking out against.
But former NBA player Stephen Jackson’s reaction can not be ignored. Jackson, who had a close 25-year friendship with Floyd, took to Instagram in a series of posts to express his love for him and his outrage after seeing his good friend tortured and murdered with no arrest. “Floyd was my brother, man. We called each other ‘Twin,’” said an emotional Jackson while repeatedly wiping his eyes, “and y’all go kill my brother, man.”
Then Jackson let his pain and anguish out:
“I know this is going to sound fucked up and I want it to sound fucked up because it is fucked up. Y’all just take my boy’s life and what we supposed to do? What is his family supposed to do? Just move on? Hope you go to jail, hope they punish you for killing my boy?”
Then Jackson moved from despair to his view of accountability:
“Why we can’t just kill you? That’s the justice we want because we can’t get nothing back. So the cops should die, too. Y’all just killing people for no reason? So why can’t we just kill you? The only justice is taking y’all life. But they not going to do that. They’re not going to give you the death penalty. They give people the death penalty for other shit but they not going to kill y’all. All right. Bet that.”
You can still find these quotes at the 1:35 mark of this video.
Jackson’s call for the death penalty, follows a similar call by Wanda Cooper-Jones, the mother of Ahmaud Arbery. Cooper says: “My son died, they should die as well.”
Whether you agree with Jackson and Cooper-Jones is unimportant (note: I am anti-death penalty — no exceptions). What’s important is the level of despair where the death penalty is seen as the only viable solution left to stop police from murdering. For the record, Minnesota does not have the death penalty, and while the federal government could seek it, that’s highly unlikey.
“I feel hopeless”, Jackson reiterated on Wednesday to Jemele Hill, “ The only way they will start treating us differently, is they start killing them.”
White people should listen precisely because these are also the real feelings represented by hundreds of protesters and millions of Black Americans. And because they are demands for accountability.
That accountability departs from the warm and fuzzy white-friendly religious tale of unearned Black forgiveness of oppressors that demands no reciprocal justice in return.
If Jackson has to suffer great pain, the least white people can do is absorb it.
A lack of accountability spurring rage. Jackson is far from alone.
A number of athletes addressed wide-ranging demands for systemic accountability in specific ways that not only include accountability demands for the police officers who killed Floyd, but also accountability for the silence of “good cops,” the media as “police stenographers,” and the deadly impact of white silence.
Lebron James reminded everyone in graphic terms why Colin Kaepernick kneeled, and tennis phenom Coco Gauff shared her own pain.
“I am in tears watching this video”, tweeted Gauff, “everyday innocent people are dying because of our skin color. No one deserves to die like that. I just can’t believe this. This needs to stop. #GeorgeFloyd”.
Deadspin’s Carron Phillips described Gauff as representing the “the inevitable lost innocence of Black youth.” She is only 16.
The depth of Gauff’s pain was reflected in the hundreds of protesters who took to the streets the last two nights to demand the arrest of the officers, perhaps none more desperately heartfelt than this young protester:
Colin Kaepernick’s protest was always about police accountability, most encapsulated in his summation that: “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
The Floyd death has expanded the accountability discussion.
“The guy was just standing there,” tweeted former NFL player Torrey Smith. “What is their standard? What happened to holding your peers accountable to the pledge they took to ‘protect and serve’?”
Floyd’s death, his pleas to breathe, and the lack of intervention by other police officers most resemble the choking death of Eric Garner by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo.
In both cases, the lack of intervention by nearby cops blows up the narrative that police terror boils down to “a few bad apples.” Videos of the Garner and Floyd murders show visual evidence that the bigger problem is a rotten orchard.
WNBA champion Rebekkah Brunson tweeted similar outrage. “It’s hard not to generalize when you see what happened yesterday to #GeorgeFloyd watching one officer kill a man while his ‘brothers’ sit and watch doing nothing. It was inhumanely sickening I’m sick!’
Smith would go even further, questioning the definition of a “good cop”.
“I know plenty of amazing and selfless police officers,” Torrey Smith tweeted, “but where are they when things like this happen? Their silence is alarming.”
In the very same tweet, Smith had high praise for some officers on an individual level but condemned their alarming silence on the collective level.
So a “good cop” really all depends on one’s lens. If your moral compass for “good cop” includes intervention or whistleblowing against bad cops, then the entire Police Department takes the same form of the other cops who casually watched Derek Chauvin murder Floyd.
And before the video surfaced, that is exactly what happened as the Minneapolis Police Department’ statement said Floyd “physically resisted officers” and was “suffering medical distress.”
This initial police cover-up was reminiscent of the famous murder of Walter Scott. Scott was shot and killed by police who reported that Scott had fought for the officer’s taser before video revealed that police report to be fabricated. Without the video, Officer Michael Thomas Slager is still “a good cop.” If the video comes before the report, Slager is merely “a bad apple.” Like Floyd, the late video revealed a whole rotten department.
Have any cops spoken out? Yes. The St. Louis’s Ethical Society of Police, tweeted that “Most cities, city officials, and police unions would rather have killers than remove them.”
And there you have it.
“Man dies in custody after medical incident in Minneapolis”
“FBI called in after man dies following incident with Minneapolis police”
These were some hard hitting headlines that initially came out after Derek Chauvin murdered Floyd.
A “man died.” There was “an incident.” Nothing to see here, move along.
Former NFL player wide receiver Dante Stallworth wasn’t having it. He specifically cited these headlines and tweeted:
“Of course, the trend of local news affiliates using verbal gymnastics to avoid placing any responsibility of deaths caused by police continues. Most of them are basically police stenographer.”
Calling local media “police stenographers” is a common charge. We just rarely publicly hear such pointed language coming from athletes, retired or not.
But if the last two days are any indicator, Jackson and many other athletes are not waiting on white people, media or “good cops” to hold MPD cops accountable for the murder of George Floyd. Jackson is on his way to Minneapolis himself.
“We will get justice,” Jackson posted on Instagram. “They will be writing a big check for your kids on behalf of Minnesota Police Dept. and u can bet dat Jack. Rest Easy Twin u wasn’t supposed to make it through the life u had change for the better then go out like this. Fuk dat.”