Raptors’ Fred VanVleet calls for ‘big steps’ to address systemic racism

Raptors' Fred VanVleet shares his thoughts on the social unrest in the United States and what steps need to be taken to fight social injustice.

As protests against racial injustice and systemic racism continue across the United States, sparked by the death of George Floyd last week, Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet shared his thoughts on the conversation that has emerged about racial inequality.

“It’s really unfortunate, but what I think is even more unfortunate is that I think we’ve already seen this before,” VanVleet said in an interview Monday of some of the protests turning violent. “We’ve seen this movie before and I think people are tired of the racism and tired of discrimination and the abuse. Unfortunately, [George Floyd] had to lose his life but I think it was a boiling point and people are just fed up and I think it’s time for a change and everybody’s seeing that.

“Kind of the curtains are being pulled back and you can see everything for what it is and see who stands where and we’re going to have to move forward from this eventually, but right now it’s just a lot of emotion, and rightfully so. We’re talking about hundreds of years of pain and suffering for an entire culture of people.”

Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, died last Monday night after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground for several minutes beneath a Minneapolis police officer’s knee. Floyd had been arrested after an employee at a Minneapolis grocery store called the police, alleging Floyd tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill.

The incident, which was captured on video, showed Floyd pinned to the ground with his hands cuffed and Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin – who was identified as the primary officer in the video – with his knee pressed against Floyd’s neck. In the video, Floyd can be heard saying that he couldn’t breathe, and later paramedics are seen lifting an apparently non-responsive Floyd onto a stretcher and into an ambulance. An independent autopsy has since found that Floyd’s death was “caused by asphyxia due to neck and back compression that led to a lack of blood flow to the brain.”

After the graphic video circulated widely on social media, the four officers involved in the incident were fired and Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder.

The outcry from this has seen people take to social media and the streets, denouncing police violence and demanding social reform and the end of racial inequality.

In order to make this happen, VanVleet believes some of our society’s systems as we know them need to be overhauled.

“It’s big steps. There’s nothing small that’s gonna fix this,” VanVleet said of what steps can be taken to move towards a resolution. “I think the system that’s in place is not for us, it’s not for everybody. It’s for a specific set of people and, obviously, there are ways to succeed in that system, but there’s definitely not an even playing field.

“So there’s a lot of things that need to be changed, but there are laws, policies and, as you can see, police procedures that maybe need to be updated or guys need to be trained better. But I don’t have all the answers, obviously, but the first step is just admitting that there is a real problem.”

VanVleet is one of many athletes, both current and former, who have expressed their support for the African-American community in the wake of Floyd’s death, including, recently, his fellow Raptors teammate Norman Powell, who expressed similar sentiments on the matter of racial injustice.

“It’s a tough and difficult situation,” Powell said of the situation in a separate interview. “So my thoughts and prayers are with the family. But the protests and the way the world is feeling right now they’re very upset, I’m very upset, to see this happen. Yet again, an unarmed African American had his life taken over excessive police force.

“I’m upset because we have people we put our faith in and have a belief that people in uniform are doing what’s best for us and keeping us safe and protected. It’s disappointing to see countless of times where they’re using their power for the wrong reasons.”

Like many others, Powell expressed his support for the protests that have emerged in the wake of Floyd’s death, but condemns the violence — from police officers and from protesters — and looting we’ve seen from some people amid the unrest.

“I think the protests are rightfully so and the only thing I don’t agree with is the rioting and the looting of businesses,” said Powell. “I think there’s a right way to go about it, and everybody’s angry and everybody’s responding off emotion, but I don’t agree with tearing down and attacking your own small businesses in your community. The community is all rallying behind this cause and with the destruction of buildings and stealing you’re kind of taking away a light that is being shown and needs to be shown on the situation.

“So the peaceful protests — and even if you’re angry and you’re shouting and you’re voicing your opinion that’s great — but the destruction, I think, is taking away from the grand scheme of things. I know it takes an extreme [incident] to bring a light and to bring true progress and hopefully with all of this here we’ll actually be able to take some big leaps and strides to a resolution to this.”

As for how those steps can be made, Powell suggested we all make our voices heard on the matter — no matter how big or small the platform.

“Don’t be afraid to speak up, don’t be afraid to be the person that can affect change among the people around you,” he said. “I think a lot of people see the racism, the discrimination that’s going on and they don’t agree with it but they also don’t speak up. So speak up, use your voice, use your platform, no matter what it is. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have, it doesn’t matter what job you have, if you’re seeing wrong being done that’s where you can be the most effective. The more people who are coming out of the shadows of being shy and timid of speaking their mind, the better this is going to be and you see that now with people from all over.

“We’re really coming together and saying, ‘Enough is enough,’ and I think that’s the biggest thing because it’s not just going to take one person to come out and speak and everybody’s going to realize and change, it’s going to be people in masses and groups. It’s not going to be a day or two, it’s going to be weeks, months to have this consistent pressure put onto people above to know that we’re tired and change needs to come.

“I think the best thing we can do is hold those people accountable just like you hold the citizens accountable for stepping outside the line — from breaking rules, breaking laws. Just because you have a badge on doesn’t make you above the law. You’re here to enforce it in the correct way and I think the best way for people to do that is to continue to have their voices heard on this topic.”

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