Toronto Raptors president, Masai Ujiri, has spoken on the death of George Floyd and other recent cases of police violence and discriminatory acts against Blacks, saying the conversation about racism “can no longer be avoided” and needs to be had “now.”
In an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail, the Nigerian-born executive, who is also the co-founder of Giants of Africa, expressed his dismay in the manner in which Floyd lost his life, particularly when the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor are still fresh in peoples’ minds.
“I couldn’t understand how this could be,” Ujiri, 49, said. “Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that we were mourning the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was shot as he was jogging in Georgia? That we were shocked Breonna Taylor could be killed in her own home in Louisville, Ky.?”
“The list grows, and things don’t change,” he added.
Floyd, 46, died on May 25 after a Minneapolis cop, identified as Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for several minutes despite the victim pleading he could not breathe. His death has sparked a global outrage with several protests taking place across cities in United States. This has escalated to clashes with the police, destruction of property and looting over the past few days.
“Ever since I first saw the video, I’ve been thinking about the cycle. A death like this happens, and we rage about it, and the headlines recede, and the world moves on, and then a few weeks later something else happens and we’re outraged again and then we move on, again. We have to stop that cycle,” Ujiri said, while taking the police to task and calling on them to be impartial in the line of duty.
“They [the police] are peace officers. They are supposed to protect all of us. This is the profession they chose,” he said. “I didn’t see any peace or protection when that officer had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck. I saw indifference. The “order” in “law and order” should not mean the deadly suppression of people of colour; it should mean preserving a society so we can all feel free and safe, to live in peace with each other.”
Ujiri also highlighted the ongoing lawsuit filed against him by the Oakland police officer, who accused him of assault after the two got into a confrontation during Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. The two allegedly got into an altercation at the end of the game when the Nigerian was making his way to the court to join the players and other team members celebrate the Raptors’ first ever NBA championship in its franchise history.
The officer initially declined Ujiri access to the court on the grounds that he did not show the proper credentials to be able to have access to the court. After trading words, a shoving match ensued but both parties were quickly separated. Ujiri was shortly allowed access to the court afterwards.
“There’s a lawsuit that’s still before the courts – he is suing me – so I can’t say too much,” he said. “But I will say this: If it was another team president heading for the court – a white team president – would he have been stopped by that officer? I’ve wondered that.”
Admitting that the conversation about racism is “difficult” and “often sidestepped”, Ujiri said it’s still prudent for an immediate dialogue.
“So many of you are asking: What can I do? There is a sense of helplessness, but that must not paralyze us,” he said. “Your voice matters, especially when you are a leader or influential figure, and especially if you are white. Leaders have to be bold enough to state the obvious and call out racism.”