The death of George Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old black man who died on May 25 after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin used his knee to pin Floyd’s neck to the ground for several minutes, has sparked national outrage. Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
SBLive reporter Connor Morrissette reached out to several Los Angeles area high school basketball coaches to discuss Floyd’s death and how it has impacted them and their communities in Southern California.
The conversations are printed below. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity.
Jamal Adams is the Director of Equity and Inclusion and an African American Studies teacher at Loyola High School. He’s also the school’s varsity boys basketball coach.
SBLive: Good morning Jamal. Thank you so much for taking my call. How are you feeling this morning?
Jamal Adams: This is a heavy, heavy time. This is actually the fourth call I’ve had this morning on this subject. They’ve come from all of the different hats I wear. As a black man and as an African American studies teacher, I’ve gotten calls from administration and then from other African American men about what can we do.
Right now I have every emotion possible. I’m angry. I’m depressed. At times I feel very helpless and hopeless around this and then obviously I am trying to put my best hat on as a competitor in order to find ways to turn this energy into some sort of positive resolution from this. But this morning in particular, watching the police arrest Omar Jimenez on CNN and then seeing President Trump’s tweet regarding local riots, if you told me that this was a script you were writing, I would have told you that this is unbelievable and preposterous. Is this really real life?
It’s just been a debilitating week to be candid with you.
SBLive: The worst part of this, is that this isn’t an isolated incident. These events are horrific and keep happening.
Jamal Adams: We’re in quarantine and in the last three weeks there’s been the events with Ahmaud Arbery, the murder of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, George Floyd in Minneapolis, the incident with the Cooper woman in New York City. The stay at home order still hasn’t mitigated the idea that race and racism are still at the center of American society. It’s devastating.
I was on the phone this morning with Reggie Morris (Fairfax’s head basketball coach) and we were talking about stuff that we want to do to mobilize around this with our AAU program, Team WhyNot, and I’m at a loss in some respects. George Floyd is the manifestation of over 4,000 lynchings that happened in the Jim Crow era in America and although we have some photos and we’re really aware of the gruesome atrocities that were perpetuated against black folks throughout our country, so many of those went unnoticed, unreported and un-investigated. The thing that is absolutely soul crushing and really changed my mood is that when I came off a Zoom yesterday, I heard the DA say that at this time, even with the video, he couldn’t make a clear case for arresting the officers right now. It’s hard to fathom that the knee on the neck for several minutes is not an automatic criminal act. There’s no way for me to rationalize that.
SBLive: It’s almost like there is a blueprint. A horrific event like this takes place and then maybe the officer loses their job, but they rarely get criminally prosecuted.
(Editor’s note: The officer involved in Floyd’s killing was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on Friday.)
Jamal Adams: I think one of our issues as a country and why we struggle with this is that even though I’m an optimist and I believe in the good nature of people, we have been told that the definition of racism in this country is a bad actor acting badly towards a group of people purely because of character traits that those people can’t control. Looking at the officer who murdered George Floyd, that’s clearly racism and that’s easy to understand. But what I think we struggle with as a country is that racism isn’t necessarily your prejudices, your bigotry, or your dislike for a certain group of people, it’s that coupled with power, the power to suppress and oppress basic human rights for a group of people because those are your beliefs.
So at some level there’s a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. I struggle with the idea that the only way this changes is from a dismantling and a reimagining of the power structure within our country. Forgive me for being political when I say this, but it’s hard to see that. It’s hard when I wake up also to see our current President calling out the thugs in Minneapolis and that he stands behind the idea of military use. The last line of his tweet was chilling where he said if the looting starts, the shooting starts. I’m sure he’s going to explain how he meant the looters will be the ones shooting, but that’s not clear in his tweet and it comes across as threatening. When you juxtapose his tweets surrounding the militia groups that were on state capital steps a few weeks ago, or his statements on Charlottesville while considering that he is the most powerful man in the country at this time, to what he says today, it’s easy to see how deflating that can be for anyone that gives a crap about true justice and equity.
At this point, it’s not about equality, it’s about equity and at some level there needs to be a reimagining of power structures because the oppressed need an opportunity to be made whole. There’s been 400 years of socialization and a lack of economic resources that have created a gap in access.
I think about this a lot. I teach it. I work in this space. Beyond coaching basketball, I spend a lot of time thinking and imagining how do we make change and I hope that when I go into the box that I’ve been part of that change.
SBLive: After something like this takes place, what do you tell your players? What do you tell your students? What do you tell your children?
Jamal Adams: I might sound like an old person yelling at the clouds, but first off I think that young folks nowadays lack the concepts of the struggle particularly in a diverse and cosmopolitan space like Los Angeles. Kids that we interact with are more likely to have interactions with people of all different backgrounds, especially in basketball. It may be very easy for them to say that racism is dead or that they don’t see color.
I think the first part is, and I just had this conversation with one of my players, a white kid who called me last night and wanted to talk a little bit about this, I said the first part is that you’ve got to educate yourself. It’s 2020, but this is hundreds and hundreds of years in the making. Educate yourself on the advent of the police force and who makes up the police force in our different municipalities and the rights that are afforded to them. Also understand the socialization and how people in power like to create a narrative around black people that we have a proclivity to act violent. Understand why there are ‘projects’ and ‘ghettos’ and the economic restraints put on people.
The second part is that silence is complicity. If you’re complicit, then in a very real way you are advocating for or upholding a status quo. If you see it, it’s inherent that you speak up, even if you’re not black. Thirdly, I hope that the young men that I’ve had a chance to mentor in basketball or in my class or anywhere, when they get to be in positions of power, they take a hard examination of power structures and they work to build equity for all involved.
SBLive: You mentioned earlier about talking to Reggie (Morris) and it may be too soon for any concrete plans, but as an African American Studies teacher and basketball coach, how do you go on from this and try to promote the change that is needed?
Jamal Adams: That’s a great question and I’ll be super candid. As I talk to you right now, it’s hard to feel enthused about going forward. It feels unsurmountable right now. But I’m well aware of heroes of mine from Malcom X, to Dr. King, to John Lewis who I had the great pleasure of spending a little time with in Washington D.C., almost half a day, who kept pushing forward. It’s like in hoops, when you turn the ball over, you’ve got to get back on defense.
At some level, what I would say to you is hopefully by the sheer will of intelligence, the sheer will of not stopping and particularly of coalition building, that I can continue to invite like minded people of all races and backgrounds to become co-conspirators.
I don’t need any more supporters. I need people that are willing to get themselves dirty and go beyond supporting and become advocates or co-conspirators to dismantle the historically oppressive system of living in our country and that needs to come from people in power, our white brothers and sisters are going to have to say no more of this. They’re going to have to exert what’s often afforded to them as a privilege, not that their lives are easier, but that their skin color isn’t a negative determinant of their outcome. They’ll have to exert that privilege and that power and their voice and actions to reverse or dismantle the system.
For you as a writer, while we’re talking about trying to promote change, I think it’s incumbent on you to ask people about this who aren’t black as well. Because I think one of the telling signals is when white people say I don’t want to get into that or it’s not my place, or that they weren’t even aware. That is such a privilege, to not have to be aware. It’s such a privilege for that not to be at the center of your universe. It would be malpractice for me to not be aware and to not talk about and warn my family members of this and inform them about how they need to proceed with caution.
Black folks can’t be the only ones that fix this. If that’s the case, then this will never get fixed. We need a multiethnic and multiracial coalition.
David Rebibo is the varsity boys basketball coach at Harvard-Westlake.
SBLive: What emotions have you felt the last few weeks after seeing what happened to Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd?
David Rebibo: The tragic deaths, clear brutality and lack of accountability is sickening. I’m very sad. I hope that these events give people a voice and we see real change because this is clearly not sustainable. It’s incredibly sad. It’s sickening and it’s scary.
SBLive: Jamal Adams mentioned how it’s not enough for white people to be “supporters.” This country needs more white advocates and co-conspirators to combat racism. How do you plan on discussing these horrific acts of violence with your team in an effort to do more than just support black people?
David Rebibo: Following the Ahmaud Arbery murder, we discussed via Zoom the platform that we have in athletics and the platform that every athlete has and that included discussions about social media. We all have an opportunity to start change and create the conversation.
As Jamal alluded to, just to post something on Instagram or reposting, being a supporter, that’s great, but if you’re not having the difficult and larger conversations of what our reality is, then you’re missing the point and you’re not helping change.
These are things that we have discussed and will continue to discuss as a community. Harvard-Westlake had a large online town hall type of event with faculty and students yesterday discussing these two tragic deaths. There were expressions of anger, expressions of fear and expressions of despair. It created an important dialogue and it was encouraging to see and hear people from all different backgrounds convey empathy and be unified, which I think is the first step in stopping this terrible behavior and creating a level of accountability for how to treat people, just in general.
There is a lot of hate in general and this hate that continues to come out in our country, it’s a driving force in what is going on. It’s certainly more prevalent in some areas than others, but for us to be having large town hall conversations as a community is encouraging, especially with us being on the dead period and not being able to reach our athletes, it’s big for our athletes to be in that and hear from the voices in our community. That’s how we’re going to start change and bring awareness to what’s going on. Often people live in a bubble and as long as their bubble isn’t affected they’re oblivious. People are now seeing that these things are going on and that they have always have been going on.
It’s time that we as a country and as a people unite and continue to voice that we’re not going to accept this and that we’re not going to accept hate. It’s my hope that the more conversations that take place, the more change we’ll see.
Jovante King is the varsity boys basketball coach at Washington Prep.
SBLive: Hello Jovante. What is your reaction to the events from the last few days?
Jovante King: Growing up in a black community, police brutality has always been at the forefront next to gang violence. We were raised not to like the police due to certain circumstances my family had to endure from the police’s wrongful brutality. Watching George Floyd’s death while he’s pleading for help laying their helplessly really bothered me.
Racism is being seen firsthand now that we have cell phone cameras and social media to address these situations. Now the world gets to see that African Americans are not being treated as equals in comparison to other ethnicities. You see how the park incident happens when Ms. Cooper called the police just for being asked to put her dog on a leash by a black man. She acted as if she was threatened, but she really threatened the man’s life. What if he didn’t have a camera to record the incident and the police arrived? He easily could have been another victim of police brutality.
SBLive: What do you tell your players after something like this happens?
Jovante King: I honestly tell my players to do whatever the police ask them to do and to not engage into an altercation with them. I let them know they’re being judged by the color of their skin and nothing else.
Growing up, basketball saved my life. Everywhere I went I was dribbling a ball or at a park playing. Decades have gone by, but the brutality is still the same with the police. Luckily basketball kept me away from that. I wish the police were better trained on how to handle real life situations so that they don’t have to end in violence.
Everyone should be treated equally, not based on the color of their skin.