It happened again, the cycle following a chilling and learned pattern. An African American man dies in the hands of police. Video makes it to the internet, which incites anger, furious voices growing, and the protests begin. They then slow down until it happens again.
This time it’s George Floyd, dead after a police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes Monday as Floyd and onlookers pleaded, the 46-year-old uttering “Please” and “I can’t breathe.” This time it’s Minneapolis, six years after Eric Garner begged New York police that “I can’t breathe.”
The familiar voices, including those from the Bay Area, used their platforms to wonder, to scream. Stephen Curry included an image of police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee over Floyd’s neck and said, “If this image doesn’t disturb you and piss you off, then [I don’t know].” Steve Kerr, in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area, vented: “Sometimes I hear people say, ‘What are you complaining about? Slavery was abolished 150 years ago.’ They’re missing the point. We haven’t come to grips with it. If we had, we wouldn’t still see Confederate flags flying around, whether it’s at courthouses or at Trump rallies.”
Another voice was there to amplify the anger this time. Giants manager Gabe Kapler, in endorsing the NBC Sports story and Kerr’s thoughts, went to Twitter to call the incident “shameful and maddening,” before quoting Martin Luther King Jr.: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
It happened again, which is why Kapler could not stay silent through another cycle.
“I think it’s perhaps that it’s the fact that you need to ask that question,” Kapler said in a text message, asked why Floyd’s death led him to speak out. “We shouldn’t have to ask ‘why this case’ about the deaths of unarmed black men in this country. It should be an abhorrent aberration when it happens instead of just another statistic. Unfortunately, that isn’t yet our reality.”
Kapler, whose parents were civil rights activists, is showing a willingness to speak up for social justice in his first season in San Francisco. His hire with the Giants arrived with controversy due to his mishandling of a 2015 assault case involving Dodgers minor leaguers when he was in LA. It would be understandable if Kapler wanted to avoid the public spotlight away from the field.
But he understands the microphone that he carries as manager of the San Francisco Giants, just like the one Kerr has spoken through in his six seasons as Warriors coach, using his platform to call in particular for gun-control legislation.
“There’s definitely a responsibility of white people to stand up and say, ‘This is wrong,'” Kerr said.
Kapler knows he won’t end up like Floyd, which is another part of the reason he spoke up. In the U.S., according to a study last year from the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white people.
“I thought Steve’s words are powerful and motivating. I’m not going to speak for anyone else, but I see my personal obligation as one to speak up where I see injustice or lack of equality happening,” Kapler wrote Wednesday night. “People who work in professional sports are fortunate to have a platform, and because of that, I believe I have a duty to use that platform for those that don’t. I won’t be faced with a situation where my last words are ‘I can’t breathe’ like George Floyd’s were, and no one else should be put in that position either. If I can do the smallest thing about that with my voice because of my race or in spite of it, I believe I should.”
Four officers have been fired over the death of Floyd, and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told reporters he wanted charges leveled against Chauvin. Protests will continue, as will the anger.
If there is a season of baseball to be played this year, Kapler won’t avoid talking about things that matter with his players.
“We don’t look to keep anything out of the clubhouse,” Kapler wrote. “It’s an environment where everything is discussed openly, and sometimes those conversations spill into discussions outside of the clubhouse too. We don’t have a whole lot of rules about that, and I think that’s the way it works well.”