College Athletes Take a Stand on Police Violence

For more than a decade there has been a high volume of incidents consisting of blacks having to deal with social injustice from police officers. In 2016 several of these incidents resulted in deaths to blacks and cops. Due to social injustice blacks are facing, some college athletes have used their platform to shed light on the inequality hoping to help find solutions to the problem.

In Kent, Ohio, the Kent State University Men’s Basketball team used their platform to help shed light on social injustice. They performed an act that senior guard Jalen Avery stated was for “unity”. On Wednesday, November 16, 2016, the Golden Flashes walked onto the bleachers of their arena during their home opener. They gathered fans of different races to stand with them during the playing of the national anthem. The reception from the fans was warm; as they accepted the players’ invitation.

On the SportsLit PodcastDeon Edwin, the Golden Flashes senior guard and player who came up with the idea to gather fans stated “… we’re all here, we’re just one country. We might as well not fight and [sic] just get along together.”

Less than two months before KSU Men’s Basketball’s act of unity another group of college athletes performed a peaceful act of solidarity before their game. However, the players did not receive the same treatment as did the Golden Flashes. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln football players, Michael Rose-IveyDaiShon Neal, and Mohammed Barry kneeled in solidarity during the playing of the national anthem before their game against Northwestern University. The three players kneeled to join Colin Kaepernick and other athletes who used their platform to shed light on social injustice against blacks.

After Rose-Ivey, Neal, and Barry’s action the players received feedback that was both positive and negative. The players received support from their Head Coach Mike Riley, their teammates, the school’s president Hank Bounds, and numerous other people. However, comments made by Nebraska’s Governor Pete Ricketts (17:30-19:02), the school’s Regent Hal Daub, and hate mail from a horde of people seemed to receive more attention from the media than the players’ action.

Unhappy with comments, and messages Rose-Ivey, Neal, and Barry received; Rose-Ivey expressed his disappointment during a press conference.

In the press conference, Rose-Ivey stated:

“As a young black man who see people who look like me being unfairly treated; who do not have the platform to let other people know about these injustices that go on every single day. I feel like I’m obligated to stand up and bring awareness to the social injustices that are not limited to police brutality, but also to the laws and policies that discriminate and hinder the growth and opportunities of people of color, low income people, women, and other marginalized communities.”

Both actions committed by Kent State Men’s Basketball and players from the Nebraska football team were peaceful. Supporters took KSU’s action for what it was, and detractors viewed the three Huskers’ action as a sign of “disrespect.”

During an interview with Dr. Shirley B. Johnson, the president of the NAACP Miami Dade Branch, she was informed about what the three Nebraska football players did. When asked what words of encouragement she would give to the three players during such a time, Johnson stated:

“When you can be free to be who you are in a country for the free and the brave–than be brave and stand for what you believe in and anyone else who is doing something that will make a difference in the lives of many children. … just know as long as you know what you are doing is right–keep on doing it.”

According to The Washington Post, there were 963 fatal police shootings in 2016. Of 963 deaths, 233 of those deceased were black. The Guardian created a tracker like the Post, but theirs tracked all deaths by law enforcement. When tracking the total of all people and the total of black people killed the data was: 1091 total deaths, and 265 deaths of blacks. You can view The Guardian’s tracker here.

In recent years, athletes have expressed displeasure for the way blacks have been treated by law enforcement using social media. Athletes used their platform online to voice their opinion knowing millions were watching. Now a movement which started in 2016 has begun. Athletes like Kent State Men’s Basketball, three Nebraska football players, Colin Kaepernick and others are doing more than just talking and posting.

For years blacks have fell victim to social injustice by law enforcement. In 2016 athletes performed actions in solidarity to shed light on the social injustices.

Athletes are performing such acts of solidarity for a goal–to create unity. They want to help mend the relationship law enforcement and blacks have with each other. Such actions will contribute to reducing the number of arrests and deaths that have occurred in the past.

The actions performed by KSU Men’s Basketball, and the three Nebraska football players has been inspirational to some. After learning about the two parties action, Miami Dade College Women’s Basketball player, Cheah Rael Whitsitt stated:

“As an athlete myself I feel like I’ve always needed to do more. Especially when it comes to what I believe in or what I can do. Like my potential. It kind of gave me courage in a way to see that other people are doing things and they’re going through that. They were willing to take the risk. It makes me understand I should be able to do the same thing whether the feedback is positive or negative. It’s what I believe–so stick to it no matter what.”

Criticism has risen since athletes have used their platform in such a way. The criticism has come from a variety of people. One party that has been involved in this criticism have been police officers. In 2016, some of the gestures the athletes made to shed light on social injustice did not sit well with a few police officers. Their dislike was made public.

On Saturday, July 9, 2016, four players of the Minnesota Lynx (Maya MooreRebekka BrunsonSeimone Augustus, and Lindsay Whalen) held a press conference before their game against the Dallas Wings to denounce racial profiling. In addition, they wore Black Lives Matter pre-game warm-up jerseys that had the words “Change Starts With Us” and “Justice and Accountability” on the front of the shirts. On the back of the shirts were the names Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, the Dallas Police Shield, and “Black Lives Matter”. After the players’ actions four off-duty police officers working the Minnesota Lynx game walked off the job.

When interviewed by the StarTribune, Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, praised the officers for quitting the game. “I commend them for it,” he said. He then informed the StarTribune that the four officers removed themselves from a list to work future games. Kroll stated, “If {the players} are going to keep their stance, all officers may refuse to work there.”

Not all police officers have this view (Kroll’s view) on what athletes are doing to shed light on social injustice. Some understand the situation at hand (the social injustice blacks face by law enforcement), action athletes have executed, and the line that must be walked to make sure things are fair.

To learn more about Nakia Jones, click here.

In an effort to improve the relationship between blacks and law enforcement, Miami Dade College Criminal Justice Professor Dr. Shawn Schwaner believes both sides need to be in contact more often. Schwaner went on to say:

“If you can imagine that crime is a stream (a river that flows) right now, the police wait on the banks of the stream. When crime happens, they go in they pick up the rock that caused the crime and they make the arrest. Even in community policing they step in and then they step out. … I would have police in the stream; I would create programs where the police are walking side-by-side. Not in and out of the community–with the community.”

Dr. Schwaner has taught in the criminal justice field since 1990. He’s taught courses such as crime prevention, human behavior & criminal justice, interpersonal communications & criminal justice, criminology, corrections, criminal justice administration, and classes about law enforcement. Schwaner teaches a specialized course for police officers. It’s called Senior Officers Course.

According to Dr. Schwaner the course teaches “the sergeants, the chiefs, and the captains on how to do research to better engage crime control around Miami-Dade.” He calls what’s being taught “Procedural Justice.” Dr. Schwaner stated:

“… Procedural justice is essentially this idea that you give people open communication, you give them visibility, you give them transparency, and it’s a humane perspective on how to handle any person who the person comes in contact with. By design it’s a de-escalation process so the use of excessive force is essentially removed from any kind of interaction. Even if it’s a felony type of situation.”

When asked to share her thoughts on the social injustices blacks face by police, MDC Women’s Basketball player Nia Sapp stated, “It’s a very sad—sad subject … we just want unity we want to be treated like human beings. We don’t want to be treated like it’s a privilege to live in America—because it’s not.”

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