Women's basketball, once again, leading the charge

A look at how the women's basketball community is mobilizing around the recent events of racial injustice in Minnesota.

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On Monday, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died in Minneapolis after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck. The cellphone video footage of the incident shows Floyd gasping for air and repeatedly saying, “Please, I can’t breathe.”

The four police officers involved in the video — Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng — were fired by the Minneapolis Police Department on Wednesday. On Friday, Chauvin, the officer who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck which killed him, was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. An investigation into the other three former officers is reportedly still ongoing.

Since Floyd’s death on Monday, the city of Minneapolis has been raging in protest with people setting fire to police precincts and other local buildings as police fired tear gas and arrested many, including a CNN camera crew. If you can help, here is the link to donate to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which works to pay bail for those that cannot afford to, and here is the link to Floyd’s memorial fund.

Six years ago, Eric Garner died at 43 years old after being held in a chokehold by an NYPD officer and shouting, “I can’t breathe,” 11 times on video.

In February of this year, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed by two white men as he jogged in southern Georgia. The two men, a father and son, were not arrested until May, after news of Arbery’s murder went viral and commanded the attention of the national media.

Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT in Lousiville, Kentucky, was killed after police raided her home and shot her in March. Taylor’s family is suing for wrongful death and the FBI has recently opened an investigation.

Clearly, police brutality against black Americans continues, largely unchecked. Institutional racism still plagues this nation. In a video that is worth your time, CNN anchor Don Lemon spoke about how racism, like COVID-19, continues to infect this country.

In recent days, professional athletes, coaches and other American sports figures have taken to social media to mourn the death of Floyd and mobilize others. As we look at the responses from those in the women’s basketball community, specifically, it is worth remembering that WNBA players have always been at the forefront of protests against racial injustice.

A month before Colin Kaepernick famously took a knee during the national anthem before an NFL game in late August 2016, members of the Minnesota Lynx held a pre-game press conference to address police violence following the separate deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. At the press conference, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson wore black t-shirts with the phrase, “Change Starts With Us: Justice & Accountability” printed on them along with Castile and Sterling’s names. In response to the press conference, four Minneapolis police officers working the game walked off and left their posts. In the days that followed, players from the New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury and Indiana Fever wore black t-shirts during warm-ups (and were consequently fined by the league, although the WNBA’s stance and relationship with its players has since changed).

It is also worth remembering that the WNBA is a league comprised of mostly black women, making this an issue so many within the league experience, first-hand, every single day.

In a Minneapolis Star Tribune Town Hall on Thursday, Lynx head coach and four-time WNBA champion Cheryl Reeve spoke about a recent team meeting she had with her players in response to the death of Floyd. “We don’t hold the power. … I talked to [Lynx players] about being committed to the idea that we were going to find the places that had power,” she said. “People willing to help to actually bring legislation.”

On Thursday, the Lynx , Liberty and Sparks each tweeted about Floyd, pledging to continue to “raise awareness and create meaningful change.”

Rookies Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally were among many players who took to social media to express their exhaustion.

Several more WNBA players, including Aces forward A’ja Wilson, Liberty center Amanda Zahui B. and forward for the Mercury Brianna Turner, reacted to the news on Twitter. On Friday, the WNBA tweeted a message of solidarity, becoming the first and only league to publicly respond to the incidents in Minnesota.

Paige Bueckers, the star Minnesota high school senior who will head to UConn in the fall, tweeted to her 25.8K followers on Friday. New Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins also spoke out, urging for change.