Chris Cooper Is My Brother. Here’s Why I Posted His Video and Masai Ujiri: To overcome racism, we must raise our voices

There are so many thoughtful commentaries on anti-black racism given the number of violent and potentially violent incidents. Two of my favourites are this one, by Melanie Cooper the sister of Chris Cooper who was threatened in Central Park and the one below by Masai Ujiri, President of the Toronto Raptors

I grew up in a family of activists and my parents were teachers. They raised me and my brother, Chris, to never shy from fighting injustice. From police brutality, to the war in Iraq, to climate change, we’ve lifted our voices in protest. So when I saw Chris’s video of his recent encounter with a white woman named Amy Cooper (no relation) in New York’s Central Park, it was surreal that he had captured on his cellphone the kind of racism we had always railed against. All of a sudden, I became one of the hundreds of black women who have watched a video of a loved one being accosted.

Fortunately for Chris, the situation remained verbal. For far too many black families, the result has been fatal; I do not watch those videos. I consider them an extended form of terrorism against the black community. I refuse to subject myself to the psychic, spiritual and emotional pain of watching them. With my brother, I got to see a black man survive what could have become a deadly situation. That was a relief and a cause for celebration for millions of people.

But as I replayed the video several times, I felt more and more uneasy and angry, until an overwhelming fear swept over me. My mind conjured up rapid images of police officers arriving and shooting first, or throwing Chris down and then beating and choking him. My brother. When I posted the video on Twitter, I didn’t yet know about George Floyd, whose killing last Monday by a police officer has prompted protests across the country, but I knew about Emmett Till. I knew I wanted to make sure that Amy Cooper would not have the chance to weaponize her racism against anyone else. She could have gotten my brother hurt or killed. I wanted my brother’s calm bravery, in the face of a threatening and cowardly act, to be seen. I wanted to shine a light not just on one person, but on the systemic problem of deep racism in this country that encourages her kind of behavior.

Racism affects all black people — men, women, boys, girls, gay, straight, nonbinary — no matter their state of employment or where or if they went to college. I have no doubt that if the police had showed up in the Ramble, a wooded area of the park where Chris had gone bird watching, my brother’s Ivy League degree and impressive résumé would not have protected him. Yet the Good Negro narrative has long allowed white people to feel comfortable speaking out against the mistreatment of particular black people: “He is just like us.” “She is a good one.” Every black person subjected to this kind of hatred needs recognition, justice and support.

I asked my brother for permission to post the video on Twitter, and I didn’t expect more than 100 responses since it was Memorial Day. I was shocked it struck such a chord. The post has now garnered more than 40 million views and hundreds of thousands of likes from all over the world. In the responses, I saw anger and calls for social action, as well as expressions of joy that my brother had not been harmed, at least not physically.

When I’ve checked in with him over the past few days as we’ve fielded interviews and messages, I’ve asked “Are you, OK? How are you feeling?” Because even though he walked away, and even though I’m relieved, there still has been a toll. We felt it even before the incident with Amy Cooper. Every time we walk out of our door, we have cause to worry. My brother worries when he sneaks through the trees to catch a glimpse of a beautiful warbler. I worry when I check in late to an Airbnb, and every time my son gets in the car. Others wonder if a trip to the corner store or gas station might result in a phone call that will end their lives. So many of us in cities and towns across America are done with having to wonder if we’ll be put at risk by our mere existence.

While my brother and I condemn the death threats that have been made against Amy Cooper, demanding some form of accountability is one of the few ways we can create a deterrent that can lead to real change.

We live in a country where a white person breaking rules feels confident and comfortable calling the police to threaten a black person doing nothing wrong. This has to stop, whether through more discussion to raise awareness of the issue, or better enforcement of laws against false 911 reports.

Lots of people keep asking me what they can do. We all have a chance to step off the sidelines, to speak up, to take action and to shine a blinding light on the racism lurking in so many corners of our society. We need to fight together wisely, boldly and unflinchingly, while staying aware that our passion and actions can and will be used against us. But we must not stop. This is the time. It will not be easy. It will often be messy, but it must be done.

The racial profiling of Masai Ujiri: Andray Domise

Good column by Domise:

A few years ago, after I wrote a column for Maclean’s on the police killing of Jordan Edwards, I informed my editor at the time that I would prefer to not cover the topic when it wasn’t relevant to Canada. Of course, it’s important for news media to document police killings, I said at the time, and it’s the responsibility of the columnist to analyze them. Otherwise, the narrative offered by police (which is too often passed on by a sympathetic media as objective reporting) becomes the lone authoritative voice in the discourse. This skewed reporting can leave readers with the impression that Black people suffer death—as well as brutal assaults, verbal abuse at gunpoint, and everyday racial profiling—as a result of our own careless actions, rather than state-sanctioned enforcement of racial hierarchies.

But there is a mental toll to writing about police violence, and that the source of that toll isn’t just the knowledge that a structurally white supremacist state sees Black life as disposable, if not inconvenient to its project. There’s also the fact that Black writers must revisit this conversation, ad infinitum, and be met with skeptical reactions ranging from feigned shock to outright denial when we provide rafts of evidence that police are not simply affected by “unconscious bias” (which is clever bureaucrat-speak for “everybody’s a little bit racist”), but are active participants in racial conflict.

Take, for example, the carding of Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri. After the final moments of game six, when nine milliseconds were stretched by procedural nonsense into infinity, Ujiri raced towards the court to celebrate victory along with the team he spent years building to perfection. As he approached the hardwood, he was stopped by a deputy of the Alameda County Sherriff’s Office. What happened next is unclear, but to hear spokesperson Sgt. Ray Kelly tell it, when asked to present his credentials, Ujiri allegedly shoved the officer and then shoved him again, striking him in the jaw the second time.

On the other hand, Greg Wiener, a Warriors season ticket holder standing nearby the altercation, refuted that version of events. He tweeted: “Ujiri was pulling out his NBA Pass, the cop did not see badge he put his hands on Ujiri to stop him from going forward. The cop pushed Ujiri, then Ujiri pushed back. Cop was wrong.” Wiener repeated this in a televised interview, again suggesting the officer physically restrained Ujiri. Videos from other Twitter users soon surfaced, including footage from backstage as the game concluded, which showed Ujiri holding a badge in his hand while heading out to the arena. In other words, he had what he needed to be where he had to be for his team.

I also spoke with Raptors game announcer Leo Rautins, who described the Alameda Sheriff’s Office version of events as complete nonsense. “There is no way this isn’t a racial profile at best. I did a fast walk by security and no one cared,” Rautins said. “Masai was with his security, and team personnel, who all have credentials. How many [Black] men in a suit, with security and credentials, are trying to get on the court for a trophy presentation?”

And how was the story reported in Canada?

When the news about the alleged assault emerged, just about every Canadian news service (including  Globe and Mail, CBC, and National Post blared headlines that Masai Ujiri was “accused of assaulting sheriff’s deputy.” All were based on wire news from Adam Burns of the Canadian Press (the Globe and Mail later softened the headline to “allegedly involved in altercation as he was blocked trying to join title celebration,” after it became apparent the original was not going to fly). In the original Canadian Press story, Sgt. Kelly was the lone voice quoted, with no counter-narrative whatsoever, leaving the impression that Ujiri attempted to buffalo his way through a police officer, an officer just trying to do his job, and in the interest of optics during the Sheriff’s office decided to let Ujiri get away with it.

Let’s put all of that aside for a moment. Let’s even put aside the fact that this is the same Sheriff’s office that hosted the Oath Keepers (a far-right paramilitary organization known for racial antagonism), that has a history of excessive force and racial profiling, and once re-tweeted prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer(supposedly by accident). To believe this version of events, one would have to believe that Masai Ujiri—a Black man who in his previous role as director for the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program helped cultivate young global talent, who has met and spoken with Black youth from all over Canada, and is currently the most powerful executive in the NBA—that Masai Ujiri walks around so gassed-up during the most important moment of his professional life, that he responds to mild inconvenience by assaulting a sheriff’s deputy. That was the narrative that Canadian press were willing to promote, until a white witness stepped forward to vouch for Ujiri’s conduct.

This is exactly what police count on. When people see racial profiling as a benign accident at best, and bad actors tainting an otherwise good system at worst, its intended purpose is so obscured that we must discuss every offense, every case, every murder, every denial of our humanity as a one-off incident that forms no recognizable pattern of behaviour. Much less a structural tool of a system predicated on keeping Black people in a state of forced obsequiousness, no matter how high we rise within that system, or how powerful we may appear to be. What should have been the proudest moment of Ujiri’s life, and should have been a moment of unadulterated joy for Raptors fans, became yet another footnote in the body of evidence on racial profiling.

And our news media, for all of the promises to be mindful of its own blind spots, gave the police every ounce of undeserved credibility they asked for.

I’m afraid I have no lofty conclusion for my thoughts here, because there is nothing to conclude. The profiling of Masai Ujiri is just the latest entry in that never-ending conversation. Once it fades, we’ll be forced to recapitulate the entire argument, for whatever ridiculous reason, and I don’t look forward to it.

Source: The racial profiling of Masai Ujiri