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Tuesday, December 5, 2023
Dec. 5, 2023

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Jayne: If he’s white, does he get shot?

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor

It doesn’t add up. The narrative, the critique, the attempt to distract from the issue at hand.

Because when you ponder the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wis., when you strip away all the talking points and the cable news “analysis” you are left with this question: Would he have been shot if he were white?

I don’t know the answer. You probably don’t know it either. We can’t understand what might have been in an officer’s head without talking to them. But it seems like that should be the question that arises from calls for racial justice and from the unprecedented refusal by professional athletes to play games as a form of protest.

Alas, America is easily distracted, and in an age of round-the-clock news coverage and pervasive social media, we have difficulty maintaining focus. It doesn’t take long for an issue to be blurred and obscured and torn and frayed beyond all recognition. Even one as pressing as racial justice and the use of force by police.

Such was the case last week. Video showed Blake ignoring an officer’s command, reaching into his car and being shot. Seven times. In the back. And the ensuing days included examinations of his history and analyses of his actions and efforts to discredit him. “Obey the cops,” the critics say, “and you don’t get shot.”

If only it were that simple. If only we didn’t have mountainous examples of unjust killings of minorities by police officers. And if you are certain that obeying an officer ensures one’s safety, just look up the 2016 death of Philando Castile.

And so, the shooting of Jacob Blake deserves attention. And it warrants questions that demand answers. Blake might have been imperfect, and he might have disobeyed an officer, but would he have been shot if he were white? Until we consider that question and examine the conditions that require it be asked, America has a problem.

All of which has made the walkouts in protest by professional athletes particularly powerful. The Milwaukee Bucks led the way, voting to sit out a playoff game, and the NBA quickly postponed several days of contests.

Other leagues followed suit. That led White House lapdog Jared Kushner to callously say that NBA players are lucky to be “able to take a night off from work without having to have the consequences to themselves financially.”

Exactly. They are lucky because they have earned that position and that platform and that wealth and fame, and it is shocking to see the NBA be more morally conscious than the White House.

The league has supported the racial justice movement, printing “Black Lives Matter” on the court and allowing players to wear social justice slogans on their jerseys. Coaches Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr have been thoughtful and vocal critics of what is going on in this country; LeBron James has been outspoken in calling for justice.

Fame and wealth do not absolve one of the need to speak up; instead they demand it. A call for change from a professional athlete carries more weight than a protest from, say, the neighborhood pharmacist or the plumber down the street — or a columnist at a midsize newspaper.

As Doc Rivers, coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, said: “What stands out to me is, just watching the Republican convention, and they’re spewing this fear. All you hear is Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear. We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that, we’re denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. And all you do is keep hearing about fear. It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.”

And still there are attempts to ignore it, to change the narrative, to focus on what Blake supposedly did wrong. Still there are appalling attempts to justify a white 17-year-old who gunned down two protesters days later.

But when you strip away the distractions and the venom and the tension created by the shooting of Jacob Blake, we are left with one question: Would he have been shot if he were white?

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