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Raptors' president says conversations about racism can no longer be avoided

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri speaks in Toronto, Friday, July 20, 2018. Ujiri says conversations about racism can no longer be avoided in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the protests around the United States that have followed.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch
May 31, 2020 - 8:00 PM

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri says conversations about racism can no longer be avoided in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the protests around the United States that have followed.

Ujiri, in column that was published Sunday by the Globe and Mail, wrote about his reaction to seeing the video of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, dying after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes, even after he stopped moving and pleading for air last Monday.

Ujiri also referenced the recent death of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was shot while jogging in Georgia, and of Breonna Taylor, a young black woman who was fatally shot by police in her home in Kentucky.

"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 in the column.

"So many of you are asking: What can I do? There is a sense of helplessness, but that must not paralyze us," he added. "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."

This week thousands have protested Floyd's death and repeated police killings of black men across the United States.

Officer Derek Chauvin, 44, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Ujiri said "police have a tough job. But ... they are supposed 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," Ujiri wrote. "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."

Kyle Dubas, the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, tweeted Ujiri's column.

Floyd's death and the ensuing protests have prompted many sports figures — including athletes, coaches and league officials — to speak out in recent days.

Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler, a Minnesota native, posted a letter on his Twitter account Saturday night saying "America is not OK."

"Growing up outside Minneapolis, I always felt sheltered from racism. That's because I was," Wheeler said in the post. "Most people I grew up with looked like me. I never had to be scared when I stopped at a traffic light or saw the police in public. My kids will never know that fear either.

"I'm heartbroken that we still treat people this way. We need to stand with the black community and fundamentally change how the leadership in this country has dealt with racism. I'm sorry it has taken this long, but I'm hopeful that we can change this NOW. George Floyd's life mattered. Ahmaud Arbery's life mattered. So did every other life that has been lost by this senseless violence and racism," he added.

Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Solomon Elimimian said on Twitter Sunday "there is no place for racial injustice," encouraging other players to "speak out and use their platform for positive change!"

Elimimian, who's also the current president of the CFL Players' Association, included with the post a letter he wrote on CFLPA letterhead that outlined his own experience with racism.

Elimimian recalled being pulled over by police who had their weapons drawn when driving with a friend in Los Angeles years ago.

"We were roughed up, handcuffed, harassed and humiliated as we sat on the curb and treated like criminals as my friend's car was searched," he said.

Elimimian said his experiences with law enforcement during his college days in Hawaii, and then while living in Canada, was "drastically different" but added he's "not ignorant to the fact that racism exists everywhere."

"There is a deep systemic oppression and racism that needs to be rooted out in society; and it starts by speaking our against it," Elimimian continued. "We must combat evil with good by shining a light on darkness."

The CFL released a statement condemning racism "in all of its forms, silent and systemic or blatant and violent," while commissioner Randy Ambrosie also added his voice to the issue.

"I cannot pretend, coming from a place of privilege, to understand what it feels like for those whose lives are marked by the racism they must face every day," Ambrosie tweeted. "But I can stand with them. And I always will."

Toronto FC said in a statement the club "stands united against racism with our Toronto community."

TFC defender Justin Morrow said racism remains a huge issue.

"Growing up in Ohio as the son of an African American police officer, I have never felt racial tension as much I do today," Morrow tweeted. "The images I'm seeing across America are tough to stomach but I can only hope we're finally standing on the precipice of change.

"I urge everyone to embody the change you want to see, turn this anger into action by registering to vote at your local, regional, and national levels so we can elect the leadership that will bring us closer to the world we want to live in."

— With files from The Associated Press

 

News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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