Wednesday, January 19, 2022

When Black athletes take on America’s judicial system.

December 7, 2021 by  
Filed under News, Opinion, Politics, Sports, Weekly Columns

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( 2021 has been a year for some significant court decisions related to systematic racism. The murder of unarmed Black citizen George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin was one of the biggest stories of 2020 and this year Chauvin was found guilty of all charges in the murder of Floyd. Less than a month ago, the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, a white, young man holding a semi-automatic rifle who killed two white people in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year, took place. There were a chorus of witnesses who identified Rittenhouse as a killer but he walked right past a swarm of police and, unpursued, put twenty miles between him and his victims. Despite the amount of witnesses during the Kenosha unrest in 2020, during the trial of Rittenhouse, his attorneys used the defense of self-defense and he was acquitted of all charges. In the same month, three white men were convicted in the high-profile 2020 death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, in a coastal Georgia suburb. Most Africans, Black people, and people of color know how flawed and biased America’s judicial system is but they continue to fight it. The same can be said for several professional athletes who have highlighted some of the many flaws of America’s court system.

In recent years, the most well-known professional athlete to advocate against America’s racist legal system is former WNBA All-Star Maya Moore. In 2019, Moore decided to step away from playing for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx at the relatively young age of 29 and formed the social action campaign “Win with Justice” and was able to successfully get the conviction of her now-husband, Jonathan Irons, overturned after he was wrongly convicted of burglary and assault and sentenced to 50 years in prison. Moore won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award during the 2021 ESPY awards.

Since his “whiteballing” from the NFL since 2017, Colin Kaepernick has played his sport less recently than Maya Moore. Kaepernick has gotten more attention for his Netflix show this year than when he called for the 2020 release of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther. Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing a white Philadelphia police officer in 1981 but Kaepernick is among the many that feel the 67-year-old Abu-Jamal was framed in the killing and not given a fair trial. For years, Abu-Jamal was one of the most well-known people on death row but is no longer on death row and is serving a life sentence.

The death penalty in America is one of the most archaic and disgusting things done in this country. Julius Jones was another Black man facing the death penalty last month. Jones was convicted of first-degree murder for the 1999 murder of Paul Howell, who was shot during a carjacking. Jones has proclaimed his innocence from death row for more than two decades and has claimed he was set up by an acquaintance who planted the gun in his home after the murder. Jones’s case was detailed in a documentary called “The Last Defense,” produced by actress Viola Davis that aired on ABC in 2018. Over the years, NBA players Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Trae Young and other sports figures all wrote letters to Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt in support of Julius Jones and asking Stitt to recommend that Jones’ death sentence be commuted to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Fortunately, last month, Stitt commuted Jones’s sentence to life imprisonment. Unfortunately, it was commuted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. It is hard to pinpoint the change from getting the death penalty to life imprisonment but perhaps the attention that professional athletes made on Jones’s behalf made a difference. Black professional athletes should always fight against America’s racist laws and systems given their histories.

Staff Writer; Mark Hines

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