There is no room for debate anymore and, frankly, there never was.
One man tried to use the power of his privilege, the power of his skin colour, and the institution that continues to attempt protecting him—the other simply asked for justice based on the truth of what actually happened.
June 13, 2019 is the day the Toronto Raptors won an NBA title for the first time in their existence. It was a historic achievement sculpted by its president, Masai Ujiri, and while the players are the ones who played to the tune of champions, he’s the man who put the band together. This was his moment as much as anyone else’s and he should have been able to join his team as soon as the final buzzer sounded. Instead, Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy Alan Strickland—working as a security officer at Oracle Arena that night—not only blocked Ujiri’s path to the court but shoved him backwards. Twice. Ujiri’s words stood out: “I am the president of the Raptors. Why are you pushing me?”
And that question and statement illustrate the issue at hand and the purpose of the social justice movement we currently see. It did not matter what Ujiri’s title was. In that moment, Strickland told Ujiri with each literal body blow that, no matter what he accomplished in his life, the consequences of being Black in this society would endure.
“I was reminded in that moment that despite all of my hard work and success, there are some people, including those who are supposed to protect us, who will always and only see me as something that is unworthy of respectful engagement,” Ujiri said in a statement released Thursday evening. “And there’s only one indisputable reason why that is the case—because I am Black.”
Some with blinkers on will ask why the need to make this about race? Raptors broadcast commentator and former NBA player Leo Rautins explained exactly why:
There he was, in the same arena, dressed in a suit just like Ujiri, yet no questions were asked of him despite not showing his credentials. Rautins is a white man, Ujiri is Black. Rautins wasn’t the only white person to share that experience. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst also revealed that he had forgotten his credential yet was completely unimpeded as he made his way to the court.
“It shows why we’re supportive of the social injustices that are going on right now,” Kyle Lowry said after practice Thursday. “It shows why we’re supportive of Black Lives Matter. It shows why we need to get out there and vote. It shows why we need to get those guys to arrest the murderers of Breonna Taylor, because there’s police officers like that officer out there who are scumbags, basically.”
The Raptors have been a family as an organization. Everyone is truly invested in each other; everyone is truly happy for another’s success. Even over the course of the seeding games, Lowry described how everyone is treated as an equal and that pushes each individual to be better. So, naturally, having had their president’s back from the very beginning, the Raptors watched the recently released bodycam video together as a team. What stood out to them was the fact that Ujiri’s financial well-being allowed him to fight for the truth to come out.
"If Masai didn’t have money to fight, good lawyers—like other Black people—people would still not believe him. Things should never be like this." - Serge Ibaka
“That was heavy stuff man,” Fred VanVleet said. “Obviously, we are all privileged and Masai is pretty privileged in his world and you just stop and think about how good we got it because there’s people who are going to be in that same situation walking down the street who don’t have money to fight the case, who don’t have 20,000 people in the stands, and don’t have the abilities to countersue. How many times do cops do that without the bodycam on, without the arena footage? It’s a tough situation.
“It’s just crazy to see how things work. It’s unfortunate. The system is kind of crooked and it’s not designed for us so it’s tough. It’s emotional stuff. Obviously, we will have his back and hope that things get resolved and we are able to get justice for him.”
Ujiri also acknowledged that “the only reason” he is getting justice is because of his success that has allowed him access to resources many wouldn’t. The video is part of a 108-page counterclaim stating Ujiri was forced to deal with “unprovoked and unnecessary use of excessive force.” This is also after Strickland initially filed a federal lawsuit with a workers’ compensation claim stating Ujiri—in addition to inflicting injury—has a “violent disposition” and acted with “evil motive amounting to malice.” Incredulously, Sgt. Ray Kelly, a spokesperson for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said the office stands by everything they have claimed previously.
“It’s kind of sad because, honestly, I don’t think anyone believed in Masai when he said he was innocent,” Serge Ibaka said. “As a Black person in the NBA, as a Black man, it’s hard. As a Black person, you against a white cop, in this country. Nobody’s really gonna believe you. Thank God Masai got… the possibility to fight against what happened back then. If Masai didn’t have money to fight, good lawyers—like other Black people—people would still not believe him. Things should never be like this. No matter where you come from, no matter your colour, things should never be like that. If Masai didn’t have that money, or if Masai wasn’t in the position he’s in now, he’d be guilty. Thank God now everyone can see what happened that day.
“This connected us to understand this fight is far from being over. We have to stick together and we have to fight this fight together.”