Kenny Smith, Barkley’s frequent verbal sparring partner on the “NBA on TNT,” felt compelled to respond. In an open letter to Barkley published by USA Today, Smith put the riots in Ferguson in the context of “laws and jurisdictions that severely penalize the poor and, most importantly, African Americans greater than any other group.”
In the letter, Smith said that he “was also disheartened to see the reaction of burning buildings and looters,” but that “to not expect that potential reaction is foolish on our part.”
Before Thursday’s Cavaliers-Knicks game on TNT, the popular pre-game show used a segment to continue that public conversation between Barkley and Smith. “NBA on TNT” host Ernie Johnson first asked Barkley about his comments about the lack of an indictment in Ferguson and the subsequent rioting.
Barkley told the panel, which also included Shaquille O’Neal, that “maybe I shouldn’t have used the term ‘scumbags,’ but it’s irrelevant, still there is no justification for what they did. If I’d have said crooks, thugs or whatever, still, what they did was 100 percent wrong.”
“You know, the decision in Ferguson, I just went by the evidence,” Barkley added. “I didn’t say anything, I didn’t go by the initial media reports. When I looked at the grand jury testimony, I know something bad happened, and I say I understand, whether you agree or disagree, I understand why they did not indict the officer.
“But there’s no excuse for those people burning down their houses and setting the police cars on fire. … We got a lot of race-baiters out there, and my goal in life is to, being from Alabama, always have an open fair dialogue on race.”
Barkley went on to address Smith’s published comments. “The only problem I had with Kenny’s open letter was, I don’t think anytime something black happens to the black community we’ve got to talk about slavery. … We, as black people, need the cops in our community. They’re not there just to quote-unquote kill black men, they’re there to protect us, and we, as black people, have got to develop a relationship with them.”
About the case of Eric Garner, Barkley said, “I think what happened to that man was awful. But … they shouldn’t have went for murder, is what I have said. It should have been manslaughter or aggravated assault, but I never thought they were gonna indict that cop on murder.”
Smith then jumped in, saying, “I also don’t agree that slavery should be brought into this issue. … I think the biggest aspect is a lack of trust in the African-American community, which is actually caused by poor economic situations, poorer recreational situations and poor education.
“We have to acknowledge first that there is a disparagement [sic] between poor people and African-American people in the law,” Smith continued. “At first it was on purpose, and then civil rights has come, which is only 50 years or so behind — my parents were part of that.
“So you have to understand it’s still fresh in the African-American household, it’s not something that’s far away. So it’s something that always feels a distrust, that things are still not equal in the judicial system and in the police system.”
Smith then brought up an analogy he had used in his open letter, likening the African-American community to a group of people “stranded on an island,” in which it should be expected that there would be a mix of good and bad behavior, including “panic.” “But to not acknowledge that you put them on this island, and that’s not possible, is ignorant to me,” Smith said.
“So the solution for me is, how do you help the island? How do you make people feel that they can be heard, because really it’s more about anger management.”
Johnson then threw it to O’Neal, who brought up the fact that he is “big into law enforcement. … One thing they teach us is never judge another officer. I don’t think all the evidence is out there. … I thought Chuck used some harsh words, he just apologized for those words.
“But we as African-American people, we’ve been dealing with this for a long time, decades, centuries,” O’Neal added. “But a lot of times, when a black guy stops a white guy, it’s not about racism. When a white guy stops a black guy, it’s not about racism.”
Barkley had more or less the last word: “White poor people, Hispanics, they’re in the same boat, because our economic system is flawed. But as a black man … you can’t compound the situation by getting involved with law enforcement or committing crimes, because then you’re part of the judicial system.”
Here is video of the “NBA on TNT” segment: