“This challenge is to LeBron James. I want you to match that and double that reward,” Villanueva said Monday. “I know you care about law enforcement. You expressed a very interesting statement about your perspective on race relations and on officer-involved shootings and the impact that it has on the African American community. And I appreciated that. But, likewise, we need to appreciate that respect for life goes across professions, across races, creeds, and I’d like to see LeBron James step up to the plate and double that.”
James, as of Tuesday, had not replied. While playing inside the NBA’s bubble this summer in Florida, James and others have worn Black Lives Matter shirts, and the league briefly halted the playoffs after Jacob Blake was wounded in Kenosha, Wis. James has called for justice for Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Louisville EMT who was shot and killed when officers entered her apartment on a no-knock warrant in March. The city of Louisville reached agreement on a settlement with Taylor’s family, but an investigation continues into whether the officers who raided Taylor’s apartment should face criminal charges.
“I know people get tired of hearing me say it, but we are scared as a Black people in America,” James said after Blake was shot. “Black men, Black women, Black kids, we are terrified.” After the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, he tweeted, “We’re literally hunted every day.”
In July, James, who donated bikes to police in his Akron, Ohio, hometown in 2008, said: “You guys don’t understand unless you’re a person of color. I understand you might feel for us, but you can never really, truly understand what it is to be Black in America … In 2016, Barack [Obama] was our president. We know what’s going on now. Is that progress? I think we can all sit here and say that’s not progress. The conversations that are being had right now, how many people are really listening, I think that’s progress. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Villanueva’s department came under fire last winter when deputies shared graphic photos of the helicopter crash in which Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others died. Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, weighed in on Villanueva’s challenge Tuesday, responding to a question from a social media user who asked how Villanueva “could talk about trusting the system” after the January crash images had been shared.
Sharing a headline about Villanueva’s plea to James as well as one about the deputies’ photos of the crash on an Instagram Live video, Vanessa Bryant wrote: “Not all deputies are bad apples. Prayers for the two deputies who were shot.”
Tensions in Compton, a South Los Angeles community with a large Black population, have been high after the fatal shooting of Dijon Kizzee on Aug. 31. Hundreds marched Saturday to the Compton sheriff’s station, which is near where the deputies were shot, to protest Kizzee’s killing, and a small group of protesters gathered at the hospital where the deputies were taken.
After Kizzee’s death, Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat who represents part of South Los Angeles, called on California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) to investigate a “pattern of abuses.”
“When you’re sitting there doing paperwork and providing safety for the community, and somebody from the public comes out and ambushes you and tries to kill you, there’s no valid explanation for that,” Ron Hernandez, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, said in a Monday news conference (via LA’s CBS affiliate). “I don’t care how angry the public, I don’t care how angry even the people that might protest are. That’s not going to resolve anything.”
More NBA coverage from The Post: