GSU’s Black coaches speak out on unarmed Black deaths

Illustration by Roe Gassett | The Signal

Oscar Grant was killed in Oakland, California, late New Year’s Night at a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer’s hands. He was 22 years old and unarmed when he took his last breath.

Trayvon Martin was gunned down late at night by George Zimmerman eight years ago. In the following weeks, children across the country came to school wearing hoodies with Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea cans in their pockets.

Eric Garner was put in a chokehold by a New York police officer while arresting him, leading to widespread national attention about police officers’ excessive use of force. He was 27 years old when he was murdered.

George Floyd’s neck was pressed into the concrete by a member of the Minneapolis Police Department for eight minutes and 46 seconds straight. He left behind a wife and five children. Floyd was 46 years old when he told officers he could not breathe.

Breonna Taylor was 26 years old when three officers from the Louisville Metro Police Department shot her eight times in her own home.   

Jacob S. Blake, 29 years old, unarmed and paralyzed, was shot seven times. Not just Kenosha, Wisconsin, but rather the entire world, was put on pause yet again for everyone to face the tragedy that continues to happen in this country. 

Lots of names, but there was one common feature: their skin color.  

When will it stop? 

For the Black community, the continued struggles, grief, anger and disappointment that hangs over the fallen victims’ heads are overbearing. They shed little light at the end of the tunnel when thinking about social progress.     

The protest, riots and kneeling during the national anthem are not enough to convey the message that no matter who you are, no one has the liberty to take a life. This is especially clear in these cases of unarmed Black people. 

In the basketball community, Panthers men’s basketball head coach Rob Lanier is a big advocate for social justice, social reform and understanding. His voice is well recognized in the basketball world for more than just the game. Lanier speaks out on what matters and continues the fight for justice every day. 

“The reality is that, you know, obviously Black people have a history in this country. And so when these things happen, I think it resonates in the Black community in a way that is difficult for people to relate to,” Lanier said.

For Lanier, the situation is not a chess game, but rather a problem with a solution.

“Put simply, I think it comes down to accountability, and I keep hearing about people talking about noncompliance,” he said. “I would always recommend when you find yourself in a situation dealing with law enforcement to comply. But noncompliance should not result in a death sentence.”

The technology era has allowed us to hold many people accountable for their wrongdoings in the world. Everyone has a smartphone in their hands at all times, which is the difference from previous generations. You only heard about the different incidents the day after it happened or on the radio.  

“Unfortunately, young people growing up today have been exposed to it so much visually,” Coach Lanier said. “We didn’t have camera phones. I mean, we saw footage of the Rodney King beating. My son [and] people your age saw the footage of Tamir Rice. You saw the movie on Oscar Grant.”

The importance of mental health has always been a priority; however, it has taken a massive leap into the forefront of individuals due to recent events and making sure their mental health is taken care of. Many Black parents must have “the talk” with their children at an early age.  

Cliff Warren, an assistant coach for the Georgia State basketball team, helped start Coaches For Change, allowing student-athletes to ensure their mental health is on track and have the resources at their disposal. 

“I think one of the things Coaches For Change is trying [is] to educate our [student-athletes], empower our student-athletes to have their voice and use their platform,” Coach Warren said. “We’re trying to evolve our student-athletes into mature young men and leaders in their community and empower them.”

Additionally, Warren hopes the current generation can be the one that continues the change so many are looking for at the political level. A father of two future Black men in today’s society, Coach Warren hopes that his children grow up in a country where they do not have to face racism each day on their Twitter feeds. He wants to make sure he and his wife, Jennifer, can raise their children in a well-educated society on an issue that has been neglected for too long.

“I think one of the best [things] that we’ve done thus far across the country is trying to educate our players on the power of voting,” Coach Warren said. “The upcoming generation has the power to create change and use their voices along with different platforms to educate individuals on how important it is to go out and vote.”

Beyond just seeing new people in the office, Warren believes that a change must happen, or else it will be too late.

The killings of unarmed Black men and women in America have to stop, and the only way to do so is to come together while forcing change because the earlier protest and riots were not merely enough. We must continue to endure this difficult time as a society and make adjustments if they want to make progress. 

In 1857, Frederick Douglas said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

A century and a half of struggles later, the progress seems more visible than ever before.