Civil rights activists: Sterling case part of an old battle

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, flanked by a chorus of civil rights leaders, said Wednesday that the national outrage over racist comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling can’t eclipse larger civil rights battles such as the Supreme Court decision to uphold the ban on the University of Michigan’s race-conscious admissions program.

On Tuesday Sterling was banned for life from the NBA by commissioner Adam Silver over racist comments that Sterling made  to a friend that were caught on tape. Silver also fined Sterling $2.5 million and said he will urge the 80-year-old millionaire to sell the LA Clippers basketball team.

“He embarrassed the league, he humiliated the players and aroused the public, so an economic boycott was put in motion, and the  players considered not even playing,” Jackson said of Sterling at the National Press Club on Wednesday. “While you have an errant man out of control, you miss the impact of the recent Supreme Court case, and those decisions that are devastating.”

In the taped conversation that was obtained by TMZ, Sterling asked his companion, “Why are you taking pictures with minorities? Why?” He also told her not to bring NBA Hall of Famer  Magic Johnson to Clippers games. He reportedly was bothered that the woman took a picture with Johnson after a Clippers game and posted it on Instagram.

“Don’t put him on an Instagram for the world to have to see, so they have to call me. … And don’t bring him to my games, okay?” Sterling said on the tape. “Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to promo, broadcast, that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”

Sterling’s comments prompted a tide of reactions. At the National Press Club, leaders from the Lawyers Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, the National Organization for Women, the National Political Congress of Black Women and  the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action also had something to say.

“The Donald Sterling scandal shows us very graphically why we need affirmative action. Look at what Donald Sterling was saying to his girlfriend,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. “He was berating her; he was calling her stupid. This was a classic incident of domestic violence — verbal harassment in the context of an abusive relationship. This man is racist and sexist.”

Barbara Arnwine, president of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Right Under Law, said: “The most beautiful lesson that came out of the Sterling incident was how the NBA players association responded to it. They reminded us as a country that our fight for racial justice can only be achieved when we all recognize that we are not all on different teams. We are not on the white teams… the black team….the Asian team…the Latino team. We are on the American team.”

But Shanta Driver, one of the lawyers who argued Schuette v. Coaltion to Defend Affirmative Action, before the Supreme Court, said in an interview that more people need to be fired up about the court ruling, in addition to condemning Sterling.

“Today the number of black students at the University of Michigan is the same as it was in 1954,” Driver said. “There has been a 78 percent drop in black student enrollment since 1998, when the attacks on affirmative action began.”

 

 

Hamil Harris is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of The Washington Post.
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