January 14, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Kawhi Leonard saddened in wake of no Jacob Blake charges

Hours after a Wisconsin prosecutor declined to file charges against a white police officer who shot a Black man in the back in August, a shooting that sparked a walkout by NBA players that was amplified by protests across numerous professional sports leagues, Clippers star Kawhi Leonard said Tuesday night that he was saddened but hopeful that raising awareness on police-reform bills could lead to long-term changes.

“You got to change the people that’s in the uniform, pretty much,” Leonard said after the Clippers’ 116-113 loss at Staples Center against San Antonio. “I can’t change people’s thoughts. You got to get those people out of those uniforms, like I said. The only thing we can do is change what we can change. Do what we can do in our communities, just keep educating people of the officers.

“I don’t know, I’m not a politician, but like I said before, I am just going to keep doing what I can do to educate the young men, Black young men in the communities that I grew up in L.A., the whole California, just keep moving out. But we got to change the shooters, man.”

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), the leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, met virtually with the Clippers in September to address ways in which they could use their celebrity to raise awareness around police-reform measures such as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that passed the House before stalling in the Senate.

Recalling the discussion in September, then-Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Bass’ message centered on “how important the protests are out there because it puts pressure on them and getting things passed.”

“We did talk to the city or state senates and try to change some things, like I said, but it takes time,” Leonard said Tuesday. “You know, hopefully in the future we can get these guys to stop releasing fire on us. It’s sad.”

The September meeting with Bass came one week after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., which led the Milwaukee Bucks to refuse to take the floor during Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against Orlando. The Bucks hadn’t discussed their decision with other teams beforehand, but the act quickly led to a walkout, the postponement of the other two playoff games that night, and a late-night meeting of players at the league’s Florida restart “bubble” at which players discussed whether to continue the season.

In the run-up to the league restart, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody, several players had expressed their reluctance to focus their energy on resuming play at a time when protests decrying racial inequity gripped cities nationwide. The league postponement ended after three days when the league agreed to create a social-justice coalition and work to convert arenas into polling places.

Kenosha County Dist. Atty. Michael Gravely announced Tuesday that charges were not filed against Officer Rusten Sheskey because he could not disprove the officer’s claim that he had acted in self-defense because Sheskey “feared Jacob Blake was going to stab him with the knife.”

In response, the Bucks said in a statement that they would continue to work to enact policy changes related to the use of excessive force by law enforcement.

“This past year shed light on the ongoing racial injustices facing our African American and other marginalized communities,” the team’s statement said. “Reoccurring instances of excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging the Black community must stop.”

But “just time [and] again, it keeps happening,” Leonard said. “We are still doing things to better the community and try to get some better laws for the officers with those firearms but I mean it’s sad. It’s sad. You know, it’s hard to think about.”