Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri says in light of the death of George Floyd, the time is now for people to have difficult conversations about inequality and implored that prominent figures use their platform to call out racism.
In an opinion piece published in The Globe and Mail on Sunday, Ujiri said ever since Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, was killed earlier this week after a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground and choked him with his knee, his mind has been on the constant cycle of violence and outrage spawning from tragic events in the black community.
“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,” said Ujiri, a day after the Raptors released a statement on racial injustice.
“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 acknowledged that police officers have a “tough job,” but emphasized it is their duty to “protect all of us.”
“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,” he said.
Floyd pleaded for air in the final moments of his life as a white police officer — Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter — pressed a knee on his neck.
Ujiri delved into his own brush with authorities last year, and examined whether his blackness factored into the incident.
The Raptors president has previously alleged he was assaulted by a sheriff’s deputy before a shoving altercation between the two men as Ujiri attempted to make his way on the court following Toronto’s championship-clinching, Game 6 win over the Golden State Warriors.
“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,” said Ujiri.
“I recognize what happened in Oakland last June is very different from what happened in Minneapolis last Monday. My own experience only cost me a moment; Mr. Floyd’s experience cost him his life.”
Throughout the piece, Ujiri focuses on the headline-grabbing incidents of racial injustice in the U.S., but notes that Canada — where he has spent the past seven years managing the Raptors — is not immune to the “disease of racism.”
Ujiri, who is the co-founder of non-profit Giants of Africa, said the task of confronting racism has fallen to members of the black community — such as himself — and they will continue to proudly carry that flag, but he also stressed the importance of people outside the community joining their cause.
“We are willing, and we continue to do so in the great tradition of heroes such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali: black leaders who fought for people of all races, men who believed in universal justice,” he said.
Ujiri said people can no longer to afford to dodge necessary, but tough discussions about racism and inequality.
“So many of you are asking: What can I do? There is a sense of helplessness, but that must not paralyze us. 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. The conversation can no longer be avoided because it is hard. We have to have it. Now,” he said.
With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press