As the shockwaves of George Floyd’s death continue to resonate across the United States, and the world, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri has spoken out on the issue of racial inequality.
In an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail on Sunday, Ujiri denounced the actions of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and called upon influential voices, especially within the white community, to speak out against racial injustice. The English-born, Kenyan-Nigerian executive recalled the first time he saw the video after it was sent to him by a friend.
“That morning, staring at my phone, I couldn’t understand how this could be,” he wrote. “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.
“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.”
The piece came less than 24 hours after the Raptors organization released a statement on their Twitter account.
Floyd, a 46-year-old Minneapolis native, died after Chauvin pinned him to the ground by placing his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The death has sparked unrest across the United States, with protests turning violent in numerous American cities. Ujiri stated that law enforcement needs to re-examine its role in society.
“No one can deny the police have a tough job. But they are peace officers,” he wrote. “They are supposed to protect all of us. This is the profession they chose. 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 color; it should mean preserving a society so we can all feel free and safe, to live in peace with each other.”
“We all came into this world the same way – as humans. No one is born to be racist and none of us sees color at first. I believe there are far more good people than bad people, but sometimes the good must do more than simply be good. They must overwhelm the bad.”
Ujiri then acknowledged an incident between him and a police officer after the Raptors won the NBA Championship last June. Ujiri was rushing down to the court at Oracle Arena when the officer stopped him. A confrontation ensued, and the officer later took him to court over the incident.
“I was stopped, physically stopped, by a police officer, and the confrontation turned nasty,” he wrote. “There’s a lawsuit that’s still before the courts – he is suing me – so I can’t say too much. 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.
“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.”
Ujiri ended the article by calling on influential voices to speak out against racial injustice in America and around the world.
“So many of you are asking: What can I do? There is a sense of helplessness, but that must not paralyze us,” he wrote. “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.”