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REVIEWING

We Matter: Athletes and Activism

By Etan Thomas

Akashic Books

Reviewed by Loretta H. Campbell

etan thomas

“I can’t breathe.” George Floyd

This plea for life has been seared into the collective memory of the entire world along with the video of the White Police Officer Derek Chauvin killing the Black man George Floyd. What is different about this murder is that three other officers were videotaped watching the killing.

And yet. Black people are not silent, and our activism has created movements to apprehend and punish this type of police officer.

In this book, author/athlete/activist Etan Thomas (Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge) has assembled over 50 interviews with the loved ones of victims of police violence and the athlete/activists who have helped them and the black community on the road to justice.

It is a hard book to read because the killings continue. Painful or not, it is a vital part of our history as Thomas makes clear.

He begins the book with a sensitive interview with Jahvaris Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s brother.  Unlike the other victims in the book, Martin was murdered by a civilian named George Zimmerman who lived in the neighborhood.  Fulton shares his feelings about the support their family received from the Miami Heat.

“…We were definitely appreciative of the different athletes speaking out on our behalf because, to be quite honest, it couldn't have happened without you guys…”

Fulton goes on to explain that the Press didn’t want to run the story at all. Had the Miami Heat not gotten involved, the world would never have heard about the Trayvon Martin murder.

A disturbing fact that comes across in the book is how the Press has been complicit in the murders of Black people. Admittedly, complicit is a strong word here. Unfortunately, there is no other way to explain how, as award winning basketball player, Chris Webber puts it: “One of the worst cases of demonizing the victim to me was Trayvon Martin. … and yes, it’s purposely done. They want to only present one side of the argument.”

In other words, all of the victims mentioned in this book were further victimized by the Press casting aspersions on their characters.

Thomas makes the case that Black people cannot rely on the media to report the crimes against us by the police. We must begin early on telling our stories ourselves thereby protecting each other.

This is something that star quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been doing with great commitment as detailed in the book. He created the Know Your Rights Camps for young Black people of various ages. The camp is a school of sorts where these children learn their civil rights and how to conduct themselves if they’re approached by police officers.

Thomas has been following the success of this enterprise for a number of years and sees it as a movement. He describes how the camp instills pride in these young people by teaching them their history. Kaepernick began building the camp with the aid of experts in several fields especially Black history.  He has even given these youth membership in Ancestry.com.

His is one approach in the struggle against police brutality. Thomas includes two more that focus on healing the emotional and psychological toll of police brutality on families and loved ones of victims.

One is Mothers of the Movement  ( [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mothers_of_the_Movement, website not given in the book]). This is a group of black mothers whose children have been killed by the police or other senseless violence.   The second group, Children of the Movement, is composed of the children of victims of police violence. Both organizations provide life-sustaining community and support to the loved ones of victims. Members from each group speak on panels throughout the country on the need to stop these killings.

For these brothers and sisters, the organizations and others like them enable the loved ones to move on with their lives with as little PTSD as possible to paraphrase Allysza Castile, sister of Philando Castile,

 “…because people just don’t know the turmoil that we go through… .”

Her point is broadened in Thomas’s interview with WNBA Star Swin Cash formerly of the Detroit Shock.

Thomas had not addressed the abuse of Black women by police officers up to this point in the book, but Cash brings it front and center. 

“…Swin explained how women were being subjected to crimes by the police just as men were, but that it wasn’t being publicized as much…Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, and Korryn Gaines…” are just some of the names that Cash mentions. (Recent events, specifically the murder of Breonna Taylor, only highlight what many now describe as a war on Black people.)

In addition, Swin led the WNBA athlete/activists in a protest by wearing black shirts in response to the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile before a game pitting the Minnesota Lynx against the Dallas Wings in 2016.

However, she paid a price for championing the cause of eliminating police abuse as Thomas demonstrates. The WNBA imposed heavy fines on its athletes. As if that weren’t bad enough, the Minnesota Police Department refused to protect the players during the game. The police officers literally walked out of the arena before the game refusing to protect the players and the fans­­­­­­­.

Later, the WNBA rescinded the fine. Ironically, Minnesota is in the news again because of police brutality against Black people.

As more and more police killings of Black people fill the headlines every day, how do we put an end to this? Thomas doesn’t provide one answer to that question, but he does give many examples of the footwork needed in the work of athlete/activists.

In them, we see the importance of using whatever platform is available to demand that we all can breathe freely and thrive without fear of the police or anyone else.



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