Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey can’t help but remember how he felt walking into a new elementary school decades ago in Kentucky this week.
Casey grew up in Morganfield, Kentucky, and his elementary school integrated with an all-white school when he was just 8 years old.
While that was more than 50 years ago, those feelings he had then are similar to the ones he’s having now following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — a city where he lived for two seasons while coaching the Timberwolves.
“54 years ago I was an 8-year-old boy living in rural Kentucky when the schools were desegregated. I walked into a white school where I was not wanted nor welcome,” Casey said in a statement. “At the time there were no cell phones to record my treatment, no cable news stations with 24/7 coverage, no social media to record the reality of the situation or offer support nor condemnation.
“But I can remember exactly how I felt as an 8-year-old child. I felt helpless. I felt as if I was neither seen, nor heard, nor understood.
“As I have watched the events unfold in the days following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a city where I coached and once called home, I see how many people continue to feel those same feelings — helpless, frustrated, invisible, angry.”
Casey is the latest prominent figure in the sports world to speak out following Floyd’s death in police custody on Monday and the video of his arrest, which showed a white police officer putting his knee into Floyd’s neck for seven minutes while he yelled out, “I can’t breathe,” went viral.
That officer, Derek Chauvin, has since been arrested and is facing murder and manslaughter charges. Protests and riots have broken out in cities across the country in recent days, too.
Casey also referenced the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery — who was shot and killed by two white men while jogging in Georgia in February — and Breonna Taylor — an EMT who was shot multiple times by police at her Louisville home in the middle of the night in March — in his statement.
Now, Casey has an 8-year-old son himself. In seeing what’s happened across the country in recent days, he can’t help but wonder if anything’s really changed from that day he first walked into his new desegregated elementary school over half a century ago.
“54 years later, my son is now 8 years old and I look at the world he is growing up in and wonder, how much has really changed? How often is he judged on sight? Is he growing up in a world where he is seen, and heard, and understood? Does he feel helpless? Will he be treated like George Floyd or Ahmaud Abrey? What have we really done in the last 54 years to make his 8-year-old world better than mine was? We all have to be and do better,” Casey said.
“We have to change the way we see and hear each other. We have to work together to find solutions to make the justice system just. Black, white and brown people have to work together to find new answers. The only way we can stop the systemic problems that people of color have faced all our lives is through honesty and transparency. We have to understand why people are at their limit at this moment. It takes empathy, in its truest form. It takes a culture shift, it takes action. Let’s stop the injustice now. Let’s not allow another generation to continue to live in a world where they are treated as unequal. Now is the time for real change.”
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