Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Says Black Protesters 'Want to Live,' 'To Breathe'

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2020

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar arrives at the world premiere of
Richard Shotwell/Associated Press

Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times that ran Sunday, saying that the nationwide protests following George Floyd's death are the result of people fighting back against years of oppression.

Abdul-Jabbar noted that while there are some who are taking advantage of the protests to loot and destroy businesses, the situation is similar to when sports fans destroy property in championship celebrations: 

"Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.

"So, maybe the black community’s main concern right now isn’t whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19."

Abdul-Jabbar wrote that Floyd's death was a tipping point of recent racial discrimination and violence against black Americans. He highlighted the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Floyd, a woman who called 911 on a black man and lied about her life being in danger after he asked her to leash her dog, and the disproportionate rate of black people dying due to coronavirus versus white patients.

"What you should see when you see black protesters in the age of Trump and coronavirus is people pushed to the edge, not because they want bars and nail salons open, but because they want to live. To breathe," Abdul-Jabbar wrote.

Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter Friday after placing his knee on Floyd's neck and refusing to relent when Floyd said he could not breathe. Three other officers who were at the scene were fired, but no criminal charges have been filed. 

Protests began in Minneapolis this week before spreading nationwide over the weekend, with many turning violent. 

Abdul-Jabbar was also critical of President Donald Trump, who has called protesters "thugs" and openly called for them to be shot. Twitter said Trump's tweets violated the site's rules against glorifying violence but kept them up in the public interest with a warning.

"COVID-19 has been slamming the consequences of all that home as we die at a significantly higher rate than whites, are the first to lose our jobs, and watch helplessly as Republicans try to keep us from voting," Abdul-Jabbar wrote. "Just as the slimy underbelly of institutional racism is being exposed, it feels like hunting season is open on blacks. If there was any doubt, President Trump’s recent tweets confirm the national zeitgeist as he calls protesters 'thugs' and looters fair game to be shot."

The former Lakers star closed his column by asking people to not "rush to judgment" but to instead "rush to justice."

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