What is it about courtside at the Oakland Arena that really brings out the worst our country has to offer?
You may recall, during the 2019 NBA Finals, when Golden State Warriors’ part-owner and venture-capitalist scumbag Mark Stevens took a second out of his night to shove Raptors guard Kyle Lowry and then call him a “piece of shit,” all for the crime of trying hard at his job. It was a moment of pure id from the billionaire class—a rank display of how they regard the people they lord over, even when those people are multi-millionaire future Hall of Famers.
Maniac Capital’s gnarlier, stouter brother, the Authoritarian Cop, also reared his ugly head at Oakland (then Oracle) that spring, right after the Raptors dispatched the Dubs on their home court and earned the team’s first NBA title.
Here’s what we heard at the time: Masai Ujiri, one of the league’s best front office executives (and one of only four Black presidents of basketball operations) was walking to center court after the Raptors won, where all the team’s major players were gathering for a trophy ceremony. At the very moment of reaching the height of his profession, he was stopped by Officer Alan Strickland of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, working security for the game. Police spokespeople claimed Ujiri showed his credentials in a threatening manner and punched Kelly twice in the jaw and gave him a concussion.
Now, let’s say you were the kind of person who doesn’t always take police statements at face value. You might say, “Huh? One of the most powerful people in professional basketball is punching cops out right after he won the NBA title? Seems fishy to me!” According to most eyewitness accounts at the time, you would have been right. But, even though the county declined to press charges against the advice of the police department, that didn’t stop the County Sheriff’s Office from suing Ujiri, claiming that Strickland was permanently disabled by Ujiri’s brutal storm of martial-arts wizardry.
And guess what? A whole year-and-a-half later, thanks to bodycam footage released on account of a countersuit filed by Ujiri, it turned out to be total bullshit.
The footage is undeniable. Ujiri, sporting what is very clearly an extraordinarily expensive, immaculately-tailored suit, is trying to get through to the court and pulling out his credential. Officer Strickland yells, “BACK THE FUCK UP!” in a cop-voice and shoves him, clearly instigating and escalating this interaction that shouldn’t be happening in the first place. Ujiri tries to tell the officer that he’s the Raptors’ president and another person with a credential tries to intervene—only to have Strickland shove Ujiri again. As the footage cuts out, Ujiri appears to attempt a shove back because, you know, he’s just been shoved twice and yelled at for no apparent reason, and then click, it’s over.
Much in the same way our billionaire pal Mark Stevens acted as a living totem of the venomous excesses of his class, so too is Officer Strickland an easy avatar for rank-and-file police officers’ contempt for Black people. There are more hideous examples of random, wanton police misconduct, of course. The names of their victims probably ring through your head even as you read this sentence. But watching this cop get all shove-y with a guy who was two minutes away from talking on national television about the NBA title he just won really drives home something else about police misconduct happening in the name of maintaining order: it’s stupid.
“Also, if this is how he’s reacting to Black guys in beautiful suits, what kind of energy is he bringing to his interactions with Black teenagers?”
How long do we have to live in a country where a cop can act like a total asshole to a Black guy in the name of maintaining a secure perimeter around a basketball court (but also because he might be a big ol’ racist) and his employer, taxpayer-funded, goes out of their way to defend him in public, despite bodycam footage that shows him clearly committing malfeasance, even going so far as to claim that he was permanently disabled by two-fisted Street Fighter tactics that were clearly engineered to ruin his life? Shouldn’t this prick lose his job? Or honestly, should he even be doing security courtside at a Warriors’ game? Shouldn’t, say, a security guard who is somewhat familiar with important people he probably shouldn’t yell at and shove be doing this job?
Also, if this is how he’s reacting to Black guys in beautiful suits, what kind of energy is he bringing to his interactions with Black teenagers? Is this really a guy any taxpayer-funded institution needs to defend? And after they release the footage and everyone sees that their “bad apple” was rotten to the core, do you really need to keep doubling down?
I live in the Portland metropolitan area, where there has been an ongoing spate of protests regarding policing ever since George Floyd was killed in May. The protesters have pretty simple demands: slash the police budget and use the windfall to fund community-support programs that will allow the city to stop applying policing as a panacea to every social ill they can imagine. Local and, briefly, national police have responded to this pretty reasonable request by tear-gassing, beating, and arresting protesters night after night.
When I saw the Ujiri footage, it reminded me of a video I saw a few days back of a police officer ripping a guitar off of some guy and storming off with it. This guy probably said something mean to the cop, but, well, that’s his prerogative, constitutionally, and the officer is supposed to act like an adult and not steal his property, just like Officer Strickland was supposed to not plant shoves into an NBA president who just reached the apex of his profession. The police have entirely too much responsibility in our society and they routinely abuse people, particularly people of color, in the execution of those responsibilities in ways both large and small. Their institutional response to this is to routinely utilize violent means of dispersal for no good reason and act like children.
The police keep telling people who they are and resisting means of change. When are we going to listen?