Throughout 2020 the American people have seen misery and despair manifest in many forms.
But until recently, many people seemed to have forgotten, or simply ignored, the current pandemic we are in the midst of, a familiar issue that has taken the limelight once again: police brutality.
Police brutality is nothing new, especially for Black Americans. In fact, many police departments in our country have dark, racist histories that have been seemingly forgotten.
Many police departments in the South can trace their roots back to slave patrols. These well regimented militias were tasked with catching escaped slaves. After the South lost the Civil War, many of those militias were organized into the modern police departments that still exist today.
In Charleston, South Carolina, the police department can trace its roots back to the City Guard, a paramilitary force that put down the Vesey Slave Rebellion and enforced curfews on Black citizens.
As time has gone by, it has become obvious that racism in policing has never gone away. Time and time again throughout the years, Black people find themselves being mistreated, manhandled and even murdered by those who have sworn to protect them.
In 2020, it has been made clear again that we truly are not far from where we were in, say, 1963, during the Birmingham Campaign, when Bull Connor allowed police dogs and water hoses to be unleashed on peaceful protesters who were advocating for integration.
And as Americans of all walks of life have taken to the streets to protest the murders of Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and, most recently, the near-fatal shooting of Jacob Blake, police officers across the nation have continued to act with impunity, employing many of the same tactics to suppress protests that were used during the 1960s.
And even in an era of so called accountability, where police shootings are filmed and circulated on social media, there is another problem that has stifled any progress in making America a safer place for its citizens. Inaction.
Our elected leaders, both Democratic and Republican, have failed in every way to take real action to ensure that police officers who gun down innocent civilians are held accountable.
That is why the Milwaukee Bucks initiated a strike of NBA playoff games this week. A strike that spilled over to the WNBA, NHL, MLB, MLS and NFL, halting playoff and regular season games and training camps, so professional athletes could utilize their massive platforms and audiences to encourage change and real action within the ranks of their leagues and governments.
The Bucks – who represent the city of Milwaukee, which is about 40 miles from Kenosha where Blake was shot seven times in the back by police on Aug. 23 – went on strike for three days because they knew that it was time for our elected officials to do something.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi parading through the halls of Congress with a Kente cloth draped around her shoulders is not real action. Neither is U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren giving her DNC speech in front of some blocks arranged to spell out “BLM”. That is not action. It’s performative activism.
And on the other end of the sword are President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who have not made any verbal commitments to supporting a single bit of police reform, choosing instead to reaffirm their ardent support for increasing funding for police departments nationwide, while simultaneously mobilizing federal law enforcement to violently suppress peaceful protests across the nation.
These strikes by professional athletes have allowed for the lens of the public to be re-focused on these issues. During the three days that they were on strike, NBA players affected more change than any bill put forth by any legislature, at the state or national level.
In the three days that they were on strike, the NBA Players Association reached a deal with team owners that would allow for privately owned NBA arenas to be used as polling places in the upcoming election, while also creating a league-wide coalition to continue fighting for social justice causes in the United States.
These wins by NBA players show that action can happen, even if not assisted by those with actual political power.
For years now, the NBA has led all sports leagues on issues regarding social justice, especially when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement.
But after feeling like the league wasn’t doing enough to hold true to it’s words, the players were able to use their power as employees to grind a multi-billion dollar business to a complete halt, and force real commitment from owners.
That’s a successful strike.
Even with the successes of the NBA strike, it remains to be seen how the other sports leagues may counter. It’s not known if NFL players may have something up their sleeves with the season kicking off in less than two weeks.
With the NBA returning Saturday after the strike, it would seem unlikely that a league like the NFL, let alone the MLB or NHL that have been extremely hesitant in the past to jump into the mud regarding social justice issues, will move to mimic the actions and promises made by NBA owners to their players.
Regardless of what other leagues choose to do with their platforms, the NBA strike has done something. And in this day in age where our world is seemingly in never ending gridlock, it is refreshing to see action being taken in support of one of the most consequential struggles for fair treatment, dignity, and human rights of our time.
Cheers to the NBA players who made it happen. Their work may very well be just the beginning.