Carmelo Anthony likes to keep a low profile when it comes to social issues. But when police officers shot and killed two unarmed Black men – Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota – earlier this month, the NBA star realized he had to speak up.
First, Anthony posted his thoughts on Instagram. Then he reached out to his friends and colleagues in the NBA and with the help of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul, delivered a powerful and unforgettable ESPY Awards speech on July 13 encouraging professional athletes to use their fame and fortune to help end police brutality, retaliation and gun violence.
Anthony took his crusade one step further this week when he organized a town hall event in South Central Los Angeles that united sports stars with police officers, community activists and 80 neighborhood teens in order to address and hopefully end law enforcement officers’ all-too-frequent reliance on racial profiling and shoot-to-kill methodologies.
“It started one night after watching CNN all day and watching all the tragedies happening back to back to back,” Anthony said Monday at a press conference following the town hall at the Challengers Boys & Girls Club. “It took me a while to kind of get to that point because a lot of times when things happen like that, everybody quickly jumps on social media, everybody has an opinion, nobody knows the facts, nobody knows what was going on, and we're quick to say "Black Lives Matter" without even knowing both sides of the story. So I wanted to take my time.
“I wasn't going to say nothing at first because I kind of like to stay behind the scenes,” Anthony added. “Then I went to bed and I woke up in the middle of the night, and I just started typing. I spoke from the heart, and the first thing that came to my mind is I have to get my fellow athletes to step up and use their voice and use their platform in the best way that they can.”
NBA star Kevin Durant, who recently became a Golden State Warrior, attended the town hall as did WNBA stars Tamika Catchings-Smith of the Indiana Fever and Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky.
“I think what comes out of today, is being educated and being able to hear the story from the cops' side and them being able to hear from the youth side,” Catchings-Smith said. “I think the youth are really just trying to figure out their place right now. The girls and the guys that spoke, it was more of like, ‘We want to spark the change. We will begin this conversation, we will begin the change.’ But now it's not just about a conversation. Now it's about putting things into action and making sure that together we keep that conversation alive and that we put forth the action behind that.”
Deputy Chief William Scott of the Los Angeles Police Department commended Anthony and Catchings-Smith for their participation and for speaking candidly. He also said he enjoyed the heart-to-hearts with the teenagers in his group. To make sure everyone felt comfortable enough to share their stories and speak candidly, cameras and cellphones weren’t allowed during group discussions.
“The biggest thing for me and a lot of the officers that were out there is that it gave us a safe space to talk,” Scott said. “These conversations were very deep, at least in my group. I participated and we had officers of all ranks. It gave us a place to talk where we actually could say things that you normally don't get to say or hear particularly from people of that age. That was very powerful. Some of the things that I heard, it brought a perspective that I didn't realize. It gave us that space to actually have the dialogue necessary to drive change.”
Calvin Lyons, the president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro LA, said their was some tension during the discussions but also a great deal of unexpected compassion from all sides.
“A police officer of color talked about being out of uniform and being pulled over and the tension that he felt as a person of color,” Lyons said. “That tension is not just I think from community member to police officer. It can be from police officer to police officer when race and ethnicity are involved.”
For Anthony, a New York Knicks star who will be playing for the USA Basketball team at this summer’s Olympics, this event is the first of many he hopes to organize and headline. He also gave props to NBA legend Michael Jordan for recently speaking out against police brutality and retaliation after years of silence.
“I always said that it's not going to happen overnight. I'm not going to change it by myself,” Anthony said. “It's going to take a collective effort and it's going to take time, but we have to start by talking about it and being honest with one another, not just pointing fingers at the officers or the officers pointing the fingers at us.”
In regards to Jordan, who spoke out and donated $1 million each to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Institute for Community-Police Relations, Anthony is supportive.
“I thought it was brilliant, and it's about time that he stepped up and said what he said, because at the end of the day, amongst us, he is our face,” Anthony said. “He's an African American, a very powerful African American, so for him to step up in the midst of these times right now, it was very big on his behalf. It’s not always about money. But for him to step up and put his money where his mouth is, the timing was perfect.”
WANT MORE FROM ESSENCE? Subscribe to our daily newsletter for the latest in hair, beauty, style and celebrity news.