After being released, Towns tweeted encouragement to others. “To those who are silent, speak up — to those who are hurting, unite; and for those who are fighting with the weapons of love and justice, keep going. I’m right there with you!”
Floyd, a black man, died Monday after saying “I can’t breathe” and calling for his mother as Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes with three other officers present. All four were fired; Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
As protests erupted across the country, Towns, who graduated Thursday from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, found himself in a surreal situation in Columbus.
“In a span of just 24 hours, I walked across a Harvard virtual graduation stage into the back of [a] police van alongside other peaceful protesters — both of which I am equally proud of,” Towns tweeted Saturday with an image of officers taking him away.
“I, with so many others, met in downtown Columbus, Ohio to peacefully protest the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the countless other unarmed American citizens who have been murdered by those who profess to keep the peace.
“To express our sympathies and condolences to their families, loved ones and all justice seeking people devastated by their senseless deaths, we gathered to cry out their names. We sought to give voice to those whose voices were hushed; to name those whose breath was taken.
“True voice is not found in words spoken, however, but in steps taken. These hurtful times call for us to come together and bend the arc of justice — to be true and fearless in our expression of compassion, we must find ways to be the change we need.”
Video shows Towns repeating, “Say his name!” as officers pull his hands behind his back and protesters responded, “George Floyd!” A protester yelled to police that Towns “wasn’t touching anybody” and another added, “That is a Harvard graduate right there!”
Towns, who was not arrested, told ESPN on Saturday night that he “won’t stop” taking action.
“I will continue to use my voice to speak out for the people who are unheard, and that’s what I did. Voice is so important,” Towns said. “And when I say ‘voice,’ I’m not talking about speaking, per se; I’m talking about actions. I’m talking about going out and protesting and doing your duty as a member of this democracy.”
The protests were noticed in Germany, where Weston McKennie, an American soccer star playing for Schalke in the Bundesliga, wore an armband that bore the message “Justice for George” on his left biceps during a game Saturday against Werder Bremen. “To be able to use my platform to bring attention to a problem that has been going on [too] long feels good!!!" he wrote on social media. “We have to stand up for what we believe in and I believe that it is time that we are heard!”
Figures from across sports were stunned by the violence. NBA legend Michael Jordan released a statement through his spokeswoman Sunday afternoon, saying: “I am deeply saddened, truly pained and plain angry. I see and feel everyone’s pain, outrage and frustration. I stand with those who are calling out the ingrained racism and violence toward people of color in our country. We have had enough.”
Vanessa Bryant, the widow of Kobe Bryant, shared an image of her late husband in one of the “I can’t breathe” T-shirts that NBA players wore in 2014 to protest the death of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold by New York police.
“My husband wore this shirt years ago and yet here we are again,” Bryant wrote on Instagram. “Life is so fragile. Life is so unpredictable. Life is too short. Let’s share and embrace the beautiful qualities and similarities we all share as people. Drive out hate. Teach respect and love for all at home and school. Spread LOVE. Fight for change — register to VOTE. Do not use innocent lives lost as an excuse to loot. BE AN EXAMPLE OF THE CHANGE WE WANT TO SEE. #BLACKLIVESMATTER”
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My husband wore this shirt years ago and yet here we are again.💔#ICANTBREATHE (repost/photo credit unknown) plz tag 📷 Life is so fragile. Life is so unpredictable. Life is too short. Let’s share and embrace the beautiful qualities and similarities we all share as people. Drive out hate. Teach respect and love for all at home and school. Spread LOVE. Fight for change- register to VOTE. Do not use innocent lives lost as an excuse to loot. BE AN EXAMPLE OF THE CHANGE WE WANT TO SEE. #BLACKLIVESMATTER ❤️
Phoenix Suns Coach Monty Williams, in an emotional op-ed for the Athletic, struggled to come up with answers, writing of his respect for law enforcement officers and disdain for “some of the would-be protesters” while writing, “It IS time to raze the institutional foundations of racism and segregation within politics, law enforcement and society at large. It must happen NOW.”
In Atlanta, Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics led a peaceful protest walk Saturday after downtown demonstrations Friday. Brown, a Georgia native, coordinated gatherings of other protesters on social media and carried a sign that read “I can’t breathe.” The crowd chanted: “No justice, no peace. No racist police.”
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban joined a protest in Dallas on Sunday, walking with several of his team’s players.
Joe Burrow, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who was the No. 1 NFL draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals, tweeted: “The black community needs our help. They have been unheard for far too long. Open your ears, listen, and speak. This isn’t politics. This is human rights.”
Torrey Smith, a former NFL wide receiver, reminded people to not lose focus. “There is always a peaceful protest that turns violent,” he tweeted Sunday morning. “This makes folks forget about the cause and the peaceful initial demonstration. It’s a vicious cycle that other people use as a way [to] deflect from the real issues. Keep justice at the forefront of the conversation.”
Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who has been unemployed in the NFL since he took a knee during the national anthem to raise awareness of police brutality and injustice, tweeted Thursday: “When civility leads to death, revolting is the only logical reaction. The cries for peace will rain down, and when they do, they will land on deaf ears, because your violence has brought this resistance. We have the right to fight back! Rest in Power George Floyd.”
Joe Lockhart, a former White House press secretary and current CNN commentator who was the NFL’s vice president of communications when President Trump said in 2017 that any protesting player should be fired, called for a team to sign Kaepernick, who has not played in the league since the 2016 season.
On Saturday, the NFL put out a statement from Commissioner Roger Goodell that read in part: “The NFL family is greatly saddened by the tragic events across our country. The protesters’ reactions to these incidents reflect the pain, anger and frustration that so many of us feel.” It went on to say that “[there] remains an urgent need for action.”
In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, former NBA superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote: “Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant because it’s always still in the air.”
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