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In the caption of the Instagram post, the New York Knicks All-Star forward — who was born in Brooklyn, but raised in West Baltimore — extended sympathies to the family of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died on April 19, one week after sustaining a "significant spinal injury" while in the custody of Baltimore police after being apprehended on the morning of April 12 for reasons that remain unclear. He expressed frustration at how peaceful protests of the lack of answers from police as to how Gray sustained his spinal injury while in police custody boiled over into violence, looting and riots following Gray's funeral on Monday. He called for justice, for answers, for peace and for an end to the destruction of a community that had already suffered so much.
It was a thoughtful, conflicted response to a complicated and emotionally fraught situation that's hard to unpack. But it was also a caption on an Instagram photo; it was a message in a bottle, flung from afar.
On Thursday, 'Melo decided to send a different message.
Anthony traveled to Baltimore on Thursday, joining in a protest march through the streets of the city on the same afternoon that the Baltimore Police Department turned the results of its internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding Gray's injury over to prosecutors. CNN's Ryan Young spoke with Anthony as he marched about why he returned to Baltimore and what he hoped would come of his presence.
"This is my community," Anthony said. "This is not just my community — it's everybody's community. It's America's community. So for me to come back here and be part of a community where I grew up at, and really get a chance to kind of talk to the people and get a feel for what's going on ... I had to come. It was only right for me to come down here."
Anthony marched, evidently without much in the way of an entourage, alongside city residents, youth and demonstrators, telling CNN's Young, "I'm one of them."
"When I come back home, it's all love. Everything is cool. But I'm here for a different cause right now," he said. "I'm supporting my community. I'm here to talk to the youth about, kind of, calming things down in the city here, man. We shouldn't tear our city down. We've got to rebuild our city. We're going to get the justice that we want. It's going to take some time. It's going to take some time.
"So my message to everybody is just, calm down and be patient. I know that's easier said than done right now, to be patient. But we have to be patient in order for us to get what we want."
Anthony acknowledged that preaching patience in a situation in which nearly two weeks have passed since Gray's death in police custody without an explanation as to how it transpired might be a tough sell to some. Still, he said that demonstrations like Thursday's peaceful march show that "we care."
"I understand where everybody is coming from. Our community is fed up. They fed up right now," he said. "But there's different ways that you can go about it. I'm here to kind of, you know, lead that to the right path. This is a peaceful march, man. This is my community. This is people that I grew up with. So for me to come back right here and just show that type of leadership ... like, we're together.
"This is one Baltimore, man. And now it's about time to rebuild this city back up."
Anthony's willingness to make such a public statement in solidarity with those protesting police brutality will likely rankle some fans, especially in New York, where memories of the death of Eric Garner and the subsequent "I Can't Breathe" protests and clashes with police remain very fresh. It could seem, then, like something of a surprising decision for him to make, given his well-established desire to be one of the NBA's premier businessmen off the court both during and after his career — a decision that makes it easier for critics to bring up his "Stop Snitchin'" past and denigrate the man he's become.
But we now live in an environment in which athletes are increasingly comfortable taking political stands and making social statements, and that very much includes NBA players. From the Miami Heat putting up their hoods in solidarity with the family of Trayvon Martin, to the Los Angeles Clippers and Heat wearing their shooting shirts inside out to protest incendiary racial comments made by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling, to James, Derrick Rose and the Los Angeles Lakers wearing "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts in solidarity with those protesting Garner's death, to Nicolas Batum wearing a "Je Suis Charlie" T-shirt to honor the victims of the terrorist attack at French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, NBA players are taking ownership of their position as public figures to do more than just promote products. They're promoting causes they believe in, offering signal boosts to leaderless movements in search of traction, showing empathy for the struggles of others.
In Anthony's case, he did more than just throw up a sign — he showed up, stood shoulder to shoulder, and walked the walk. He offered an in-the-flesh reminder to those in the community that raised him that, even in their darkest times, they're not alone. That might cost 'Melo some fans. It might also gain him even more.
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