In the wake of a grand jury’s decision not to indict two Cleveland police officers in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, some activists are calling on hometown hero LeBron James to step up.
Rice was shot and killed in the fall of 2014, when officers opened fire after allegedly perceiving a pellet gun in his possession to be a real gun. The defense argued successfully that the officers had reasonable cause to fear for their lives since they didn't know that it was not a deadly weapon. Prosecutors called the incident a “perfect storm” of human error. After the decision was announced on Monday, the hashtag #NoJusticeNoLeBron has picked up steam on social media, with users imploring the two-time NBA champion and Cleveland Cavaliers icon to sit out games in protest of the grand jury’s decision.
Supporters of hashtag have referenced the near-boycott launched by black football players earlier this year with the support of their coach at the University of Missouri, over the then-college president's handling of racial tensions on campus. The school system president's decision to step down shortly after the boycott threat was made has been widely viewed as direct result of concerns over loss of revenue should the football team forfeit future games.
Although it’s unlikely that James would abandon his team’s attempt to make a second consecutive NBA Finals appearance (they felt short last year, losing to the Golden State Warriors in six games), he has shown a willingness to ally himself with the victims of gun violence. He participated in a Miami Heat team photo in 2012 in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s shooting death in Florida. James and his teammates posed in hoodies with their heads bowed, a nod to the clothing Martin was wearing when he was killed. In 2014, James wore an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt, a reference to the last words of Eric Garner, who died after an apparent chokehold by NYPD officers that summer.
James’ actions were applauded by the president a year ago. “We went through a long stretch there where [with] well-paid athletes the notion was: just be quiet and get your endorsements and don’t make waves,” President Obama said in a Dec. 2014 interview with People magazine. “LeBron is an example of a young man who has, in his own way and in a respectful way, tried to say, ‘I’m part of this society, too’ and focus attention.”
Director Spike Lee has also praised James’ advocacy of social justice issues. “I think what LeBron’s done is made it easy for a lot of other brothers in the league to say what they want to say,” Lee told Sports Ilustrated this month. “Because if nothing happened to LeBron, it’s OK for me. LeBron is definitely taking a leadership role in athletes speaking out today. He needs to be commended for that.”
The NBA star has yet to publicly discuss the Rice case or the calls for him to symbolically sit out games. Meanwhile, the hashtag has provoked an intense debate about whether putting James on blast is a fair or constructive strategy in response to the grand jury’s decision.