The good vibes of the holiday season dissipated not long after Christmas when an Ohio jury decided not to indict Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehmann, the man caught on video fatally shooting 12-year-old African-American boy Tamir Rice, who was in a park with a toy gun, on sight.
People grieved on social media and demonstratrors took to the streets, as has become common in these all-too-frequent examples of police brutality. But one writer and activist based here in Baltimore, Tariq Touré, shifted the focus to professional basketball (full disclosure: Touré has contributed poetry to this publication).
Using the hashtag #NoJusticeNoLeBron, Touré sent a tweet on Dec. 28 calling for Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, the biggest name in basketball and a native son of Akron, Ohio, to lead a collective sit out "until the DOJ imprisons the murderers of Tamir Rice."
The tweet picked up steam, as seen in this Washington Post article—enough so that reporters asked James about it following a Dec. 29 win against the Denver Nuggets. Surprisingly, the forward claimed he didn't have all the details about a major story in his won backyard.
"For me, I've always been a guy who's took pride in knowledge of every situation that I've ever spoke on," James told reporters, according to ESPN. "And to be honest, I haven't really been on top of this issue. So it's hard for me to comment. I understand that any lives that [are] lost, what we want more than anything is prayer and the best for the family, for anyone. But for me to comment on the situation, I don't have enough knowledge about it."
He went on to say there have been lots of other tragedies he hasn't spoken on, citing the San Bernardino massacre and movie theater shootings (he did not say which), and that "this issue is bigger than LeBron. This issue is bigger than me; it's about everyone. And gun violence and tragedies and kids losing lives at a young age, some way, somehow we need to understand that that matters more than just an individual."
The story grabbed headlines, and the inevitable takes soon followed.
Deadspin's Greg Howard, on New Year's Eve, put it this way: "LeBron James Doesn't Owe You Shit."
As Howard points out, "James has supported Black Lives Matter before, donning a hoodie after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot to death in Sanford, Fla. by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, and an 'I Can't Breathe' shirt after NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo was captured on video choking 43-year-old Eric Garner to death in Staten Island, N.Y."
But, he goes on to say: "We do not live in a society in which a black basketball player can get killer cops sent to jail by taking a break from playing. Any gesture James made, then, would be empty performance, flattering Black Lives Matter activists for their ability to manipulate one of the most famous people in the world rather than recovering lost justice for Rice. It's a waste of time."
Touré went into greater detail in a Tumblr post addressed to James on New Year's Day, touching on the success of a boycott by the University of Missouri football team and pointing out that earlier attempts to engage athletes on social media about social justice issues didn't get nearly as much attention.
"I'll cheer for you, sit out or not. It won't be a cure-all," he writes. "I never expected it to be. However, it'll let the world know that enough is enough."
On the flip side of the take coin, Dave Zirin over at The Nation lauded #NoJusticeNoLeBron for its "tactical brilliance." It's worth pointing out Zirin is referring specifically to an amended demand calling for James to lead a sit out on Martin Luther King Jr. Day only.
Zirin recalls James' own words upon his return to Cleveland: "I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I'm from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there's no better place to grow up."
"Tariq Toure's implicit point," he writes, "is, if you are going to use Public Enemy and say you want to be the Ali of the 21st century, people are going to ask you to back that shit up."