BASKETBALL legend, LeBron James showed his revulsion at the incident by wearing an "I Can't Breathe" shirt. A powerful show of support to the people of his community against an incredibly cruel injustice committed against them.
You may think I'm referring to the recent murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, whose last words were, (as the life was squeezed out of him by the knees of three police officers on his back and neck) "I can't breathe"... But you'd be wrong.
Le Bron wore that shirt back in 2014, acknowledging the death of Eric Garner, a black man in Staten Island, New York, who died on a sidewalk after another police officer had put him in a chokehold while arresting him. Garner kept yelling he couldn't breathe, but the officer never relented.
The similarities in the two cases are uncanny and disturbing. Garner's crime in 2014 was selling loose cigarettes on the street, Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill at a market. The outcome of both "offences" saw the accused lying dead on the street, chocked to death despite their pleas for life.
The civil disturbances and dangerous rioting as a result of George Floyd's death this week were starkly compared to the peaceful and dignified protests of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick who, back in 2016, started to take a knee during the pre-game national anthem in protest against the unrelenting and ongoing lethal violence being perpetrated on black Americans by members of police forces across the States.
Kaepernick's silent and respectful protest started with him sitting down during the national anthem but he changed it to taking a knee as he thought sitting during the anthem was too disrespectful, even though it (the protest) had gone entirely unnoticed to the general public. Even when he changed to taking a knee it wasn't picked up on until a journalist asked him what he was doing. When people realised he was staging a protest rather than taking a rest, in the style of many NFL players, during theit quickly rose the ire of the deeply nationalistic and right-wing elements of American football support and by extension the right-wing political leadership that finds a lot of its support on the stands and sofas of the gridiron-watching public.
Soon, President Donald Trump would be tweeting and commenting on his disgust at Kaepernick's peaceful protest as he deemed it disrespected the servicemen and women that fought and died for the flag. This, despite Kaepernick clearly pointing out it was a protest symbolically held during the anthem and not an attack on the flag and certainly not against the military services.
That interpretation was solely down to the president's and, soon after, that of Vice-President Mike Pence too. Without ever accepting or listening to Kaepernick's expressed reasons for his demonstration of anger at the treatment of black people at the hands of the forces that are supposed to be there to protect them under law.
The vice-president, in a protest of his own, arrived at a 49ers -Indianapolis game in 2017 only to walk out soon after due to the San Francisco players taking a knee during the anthem. Using his own right to protest, a right he would deny Kaepernick and his fellow protesting players across the league.
In September 2017, at a political rally in Hunstville, Alabama, President Trump said NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem and encouraged fans to walk out. Trump advised NFL owners, "get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired!" Much to the delight of the gathered mass to rally their support for the president.
In a May 2018 interview, President Trump went on to state, "You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there. Maybe you shouldn't be in the country."
Kaepernick would pay a heavy cost, career-wise, for his brave stance, despite being a rather successful quarterback for the 49ers, especially when it came to breaking rushing records. By 2017 the 49er dropped the option to renew his contract. Kaepernick went on to be a free-agent but no other NFL franchise was interested in taking on the controversy of signing a player in the eye of a political storm about race.
Ironically enough, he went on to sign a multi-million dollar deal with Nike who, unlike the NFL sides, saw the value of having a social justice campaigner linked with their brand. Kaepernick also went on to win a $10m collusion court case against the NFL last year.
Kaepernick is just one in a long list of African American sportsmen and women to peacefully use their stature in broader society to highlight the trials of their people going back to 1883 and Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first black man to play pro-baseball, through to Tommie Smith and John Carlos' clenched fist protest at their medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, to Muhammad Ali's vocal rejection of the draft to go to fight in Vietnam at the height of the civil rights sacrifices being made on the streets of American cities at the very same time.
Social media, this week, was quick to show and contrast memes of Kaepernick taking a knee in peaceful protest compared to police officer Derek Chauvin taking a knee on the neck of George Floyd. They were titled, 'Which taking a knee do you find preferable?"
It's an awful juxtaposition to make but one that can't be denied is powerfully true.
If only America, especially its political and judicial classes, seriously took on the peaceful message these sports stars have tried to convey over the years then maybe the scenes we witnessed this week on the streets as a result of George Floyd's killing would no longer be necessary.
Sadly, this incumbent administration - despite claiming to be supporters of peaceful demonstrations - have proven time and again (as in Kaepernick's case) to be intolerant of any message that isn't their own.