In a replay of a time-honored stunt by the Los Angeles Police Department, one of its officers has written an open letter on Facebook to basketball megastar LeBron James, asking him if they could sit down so he can explain the realities of policing.
This police officer’s call for coffee comes as a response to James sending a tweet on Wednesday featuring a picture of the Columbus, Ohio, police officer who shot and killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant with the words “You’re Next #accountability.”
In the immediate wake of Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict in the murder of George Floyd, James was obviously saying he wanted to see some kind of accountability, likely in the form of an indictment, for Bryant’s death. James — and many, many others — clearly believe there had to be a method to de-escalate the situation without shooting and killing a 16-year-old child, even if she was holding a knife at the time.
But the right-wing hordes in this country shockingly did not act in good faith. Instead, many tried to say James was “doxing” the officer and calling for some form of physical retribution against him.
James deleted his original tweet, saying in a follow-up tweet: “I’m so damn tired of seeing Black people killed by police. I took the tweet down because its being used to create more hate - This isn’t about one officer. it’s about the entire system and they always use our words to create more racism. I am so desperate for more ACCOUNTABILITY.”
Now this L.A. police officer wants a crumb off LeBron James’ table — a morsel of his fame — while pretending like it’s some kind of act of conciliation. This is an old technique by the police, taken from a musty, ham-handed playbook, one with dog-eared pages and yellow corners. Remember the Los Angeles County sheriff challenging LeBron to put up reward money to capture people who ambushed two sheriff's deputies? Remember the embarrassing “beer summit” former President Barack Obama threw for academic luminary Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the police officer who arrested him after he entered his own home?
These kinds of “summits” have nothing to do with actual reconciliation. They are public relations ploys that sell the idea that we would accept the killing of Black and brown people by police, if only we had greater understanding and empathy for the police themselves. Balderdash. If this officer really wanted to build a bridge to the communities he polices, the best move would be to go back to his trusty Facebook page, condemn police violence and call for the prosecution of officers who assault and kill citizens.
This L.A. police officer wants a crumb off LeBron James’ table — a morsel of his fame — while pretending like it’s some kind of act of conciliation.
He’s not alone in his clout-chasing. Some random bar owner in Ohio went viral in the wake of James’ tweet for a Facebook post proclaiming that NBA games won't be shown at his establishment until James is “expelled” from the league. This is a carbon copy of bars that said the same about NFL games after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee in 2016, protesting the fact that, as he said then, police "get away with murder." Again this worn-out playbook is pulled out, one whose message is about as subtle as grabbing a bullhorn and shouting, "Shut up and entertain me."
We have a bigger problem than a police officer or a bar owner trying to get 15 seconds of fame off James’ back. The crisis is that we have a massive segment of this country more upset by a basketball player’s exasperation with police violence than with the violence itself. They believe police officers have an absolute right to kill, as long as they kill the people who look like George Floyd. Or Adam Toledo. Or Ma’Khia Bryant. Or Daunte Wright. Or Andrew Brown Jr.
In contrast, one could look far and wide for a #BlueLivesMatter post from the radical right and their sycophants in Congress after the Jan. 6 insurrection that actually seriously injured police officers and come up empty. They barely blinked and it's depressingly obvious why. They believe some people just deserve to die, whether it’s the Black person in the wrong place at the wrong time or anyone standing in the way of their insurrectionist nocturnal emissions. LeBron James is trying to use his galaxy-sized platform to actually call for fairness and accountability, two words absent from their collective vocabularies.
It’s not complicated. If a teacher saw a student being abused, they would be expected to come forward. If a nurse saw a colleague try to kill a patient, that colleague would be fired and prosecuted. Only police are treated as if they are 007 and licensed to kill, without fear of the state seeking justice. Until that ends, people like James calling for accountability should be praised for trying to stop the killings, stop the hashtags and stop the violence. Police unions should be shamed for protecting the killers in their midst. And we, the people, should fight for a world where there are no more venal double standards — double standards preaching that some people are just more killable than others.