Conservatives threw a collective hissy fit over a familiar target last week: LeBron James. The NBA star had tweeted – then deleted – a post about the police killing of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Ohio. The context of the tweet is important.
People around the world were on pins and needles, hoping that the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin didn't go the same way as so many before. Officers such as Sean Williams (John Crawford), Timothy Loehmann (Tamir Rice), Daniel Pantaleo (Eric Garner), Betty Shelby (Terence Crutcher), Jarrett Tonn (Sean Monterrosa), and the six officers who killed Willie McCoy either have not faced charges or were found not guilty after killing Black and Latino men, despite video footage of the shootings.
Qualified immunity, the police bill of rights and law enforcement unions dedicated to defending officers right or wrong, means it is a near impossibility to achieve a conviction in such cases. But Chauvin's killing of George Floyd was different. For the first time in Minnesota state history, a white police officer was found guilty of murdering a Black man. The world let out a collective exhale of relief with the hope that the verdict could be the first step towards complete accountability for police officers.
However, that jubilation was very short lived. Minutes after Chauvin’s guilty verdict was announced, news spread about the killing of Ma’Khia Bryant. The timing was devastating and tragic.
As a result, LeBron took his angst to Twitter and posted a picture of the officer who shot Ma’Khia, along with the caption: “YOU’RE NEXT #ACCOUNTABILITY” and an hourglass emoji. Anyone with an elementary school level of education could see that LeBron’s tweet was not an incitement to violence. It didn’t say “#GetTheStrap” or “#DoUntoThemAsTheyHaveDoneUntoUs” or “#HideYaKidsHideYaWife” it read “#Accountability”.
The outrage from the right followed anyway. "LeBron James should focus on basketball rather than presiding over the destruction of the NBA," Donald Trump said in a statement. Trump, not noted as a unifying force, continued with the statement: "He may be a great basketball player, but he is doing nothing to bring our Country together!" The hypocrisy kept coming. Trump, of all people, then called LeBron a "racist" even though he had made no mention of the officer's race in his tweet.
The former president's toadies also chimed in. Republican senator Ted Cruz said LeBron's tweet was a "call for violence". Another GOP senator, Tom Cotton, said LeBron's statement was "disgraceful and dangerous".
If LeBron had made a mistake in posting a photo of the officer, he also made changes to fix it. He deleted the initial post then explained in a subsequent tweet that his demand for accountability should have been read in context.
“ANGER does [NOT DO]any of us any good and that includes myself! Gathering all the facts and educating does though! My anger still is here for what happened that lil girl. My sympathy for her family and may justice prevail!”, he wrote.
He clarified he wanted to address injustice in America as a whole. “This isn’t about one officer. it’s about the entire system and they always use our words to create more racism,” saying he was “so damn tired of seeing Black people killed by police.” He added: “I am so desperate for more ACCOUNTABILITY.”
So this wasn’t a demand for violence. In fact, allow me to illustrate what inciting violence actually looks like. On April 17th 2020, Trump tweeted his support for armed protests against physical distancing and other Covid-19 measures in three states led by Democratic governors. “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” the then president wrote in capital letters. “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”. He followed up with a third tweet: “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”
This prompted former acting US assistant attorney general for national security Mary McCord to write that Trump had “incited insurrection” in his own country. It was the start of a campaign by Trump that would end in a mob of his supporters invading the US Capitol.
“The timeline [of the Capitol attack] tracks 365 days that built up to that moment. It shows how the president often glorified violence as a tool to confront perceived political enemies. It is no wonder the mob followed through,” said Professor Ryan Goodman, Just Security’s editor-in-chief.
Goodman also highlighted Trump's backing of his supporters in Texas, who just days before November's presidential election surrounded a Joe Biden campaign bus and nearly forced it off the road.
“I LOVE TEXAS,” Trump tweeted at the time, alongside a video of the incident. “These patriots did nothing wrong,” he added when the FBI started an investigation. Just Security also highlighted a string of “Stop the Steal” tweets made by Trump ahead of the US Capitol invasion, in reference to baseless rumors the election was somehow fixed in Biden’s favour
These are real examples of inciting violence. But the same people who are now accusing LeBron of inciting violence were silent at best during the events leading up to the Capitol invasion. An invasion after which a police officer died. Interesting that we didn’t hear much from the Blue Lives Matter crowd condemning Trump after that either.
The bottom line is this: the outrage from the right toward LeBron’s tweet is disingenuous, baseless and hypocritical. Conservatives fear him because of his influence. They want to bully LeBron into silence so that they can dominate the narrative with their Back The Blue campaign, no matter what rhetoric. If he wasn’t such a threat, they wouldn’t pay him half as much attention. - Guardian