HANOVER, Md. — Sitting down in front of a basketball hoop inside Live! Casino & Hotel just outside Baltimore, Shaquille O’Neal, the NBA Hall-of-Famer and four-time champion, elaborated on his plans to run for sheriff in Henry County, Ga., in 2020.
O’Neal said he had always wanted to run for sheriff in Florida, where he has a home (in Orlando), but because of the new deal, “I don’t think I could be sheriff in Florida and work in Atlanta. So I bought a house in Atlanta, and I’m going to be in Atlanta full time, so it’s like, let me try here first, and maybe when it’s all said and done, I could go back and be the sheriff in Florida.”
For O’Neal, the decision to run for sheriff came down to what he sees as a divide between communities and the police. In recent years, the shooting deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Tamir Rice in Cleveland and Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, where officer Betty Shelby was acquitted of manslaughter in the case, sparked several protests.
“The gap between law enforcement and communities is too spread out. When I was coming up, police were real respected. I don’t know how it’s gotten so far apart, but I know in the community that I live in, I know that I could change some of that,” said O’Neal, who was at the casino for a charity free throw shooting competition against owner David Cordish. “I’d just have to do it piece by piece and piece by piece, the way I do business, and the way I won championships, I’m very confident that I can run a successful operation.”
Part of O’Neal’s plan, he said, is to have 30 and 40-year veterans at his side, “to ensure that we do things to the highest quality as possible.”
O’Neal again added: “It’s just a disconnect between people and police that I haven’t seen in a long time.”
He said he has a plan for how to close the gap between police and citizens.
“The plan is to really preach accountability, to really preach respect and really teach to treat people as human beings,” O’Neal said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on, I don’t want to comment on what’s going on, but not on my watch. Like for example. You can’t tase an old lady. For example, you can’t put a 6-year-old in handcuffs. Can’t do it. Not going to do it.”
O’Neal also had a message for kids. “With the kids, you can’t talk to the officer like that.” But didn’t elaborate any further.
O’Neal has long expressed interest in law enforcement. He has been a deputy marshal in Lafayette, La. and a reserve police officer in Florida. And in December 2016, O’Neal was sworn in as a sheriff’s deputy in Clayton County, Ga. O’Neal also noted that growing up, two of his uncles were police officers.
“And they were well-respected in the neighborhood and the disconnect has gotten to be out of control and I want to be one of the guys that closes it,” O’Neal said.