The four-time NBA Most Valuable Player took to Twitter on Thursday to express his emotions after learning of the death of five-month-old Aavielle Wakefield, who reportedly suffered a gunshot wound to the chest while riding as a passenger in a car on the east side of Cleveland:
Like seriously man!!!! A baby shot in the chest in Cleveland. It's been out of control but it's really OOC. Ya'll need to chill the F out.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 1, 2015
— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 1, 2015
Thursday also saw a mass shooting at an Oregon community college that left at least nine dead and seven wounded. The incident — reportedly the 296th such mass shooting to take place in the United States in 2015 — spurred President Barack Obama to decry the acceptance of such gun violence as "routine," to express displeasure at how Americans seem to have "become numb to this," and to issue renewed calls for "common sense gun safety laws."
"This is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America," Obama said. "We, collectively, are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction."
James said Friday that he had not heard the president's remarks. But he did speak at greater length about the tweets he wrote Thursday, and his feelings on gun control in general, according to Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:
James said he didn't hear Obama's speech, but "I know what I see. I know how I feel.
"Obviously you're not going to be able to take every gun out, I don't know how you can do that," James said. "There's so many around now, today. But if there's some stipulations behind it or some penalties, some big time penalties or rules or regulations about carrying firearms, legal or illegal, people will second-guess themselves."
James said that he felt compelled to say something after learning of Wakefield's death while at home with his three children because of how frequently such incidents seem to be happening these days, according to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:
“Obviously it’s not the first time that it’s happened, but it’s been happening a little bit too much recently,” James said Friday. “There’s no room for guns, first of all, but then for violence towards kids or anybody. But having kids of your own, I see the news go across my phone and I’m sitting there in front of my three kids, so it automatically just hit me. … It’s also the whole nation that goes through this as well. We all hurt from it.”
James also said that while his LeBron James Family Foundation — the organization through which he's partnered with the University of Akron to provide guaranteed four-year college scholarships to qualifying students — might not develop programs specifically aimed at curbing gun violence in Northeast Ohio, the work it does in emphasizing education could pay dividends in that regard, according to ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin:
"My foundation is doing some [good work]. We're kind of focused on something right now, don't want to veer off on that, obviously you guys know the education program we're going through right now. Part of the education program we're doing is keeping those kids off the street and keeping their situations that [are] maybe bad and turning them into good."
James explained that his foundation is focusing on preventative measures — providing a positive influence to children and teaching them life skills to grow into successful adults &mdash' rather than reactionary efforts after a tragedy has occurred.
"I think what we're doing is controlling some of the violence," James said. "Some of these kids might be in violent situations, violent areas or violent homes and we're trying to keep them away from that by having that program that I've set up through my foundation, through the University of Akron, through the Akron Public School system and so on and so on. I feel like if we can do our part, through my foundation and what we do, then maybe it can possibly bring the number of percentages [of at-risk youth] down from, I don't know, 20 percent to 15 to 10. Hopefully we'll continue to do that."
One of the most famous and newsworthy athletes in the world since entering the NBA in 2003, James has spoken more openly in recent years about political and social issues.
In 2012, while a member of the Miami Heat, James shared a photo of his teammates and him putting the hoods of their sweatshirts up in a show of solidarity with with the family and friends of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old in Sanford, Fla., who was shot and killed by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Last year, he filmed a public service announcement aimed at helping the president increase awareness of the Affordable Care Act.
One month later, he and his Heat teammates wore their shooting shirts inside-out before a game during the opening round of the 2014 NBA playoffs to silently protest the incendiary racial comments made by then-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and captured on now-infamous recordings published by TMZ. James also called for the ouster of Sterling from the NBA, saying, "There's no room in the NBA for Donald Sterling."
In December, James joined Cavaliers teammate Kyrie Irving and members of the Brooklyn Nets in wearing T-shirts bearing the phrase "I Can't Breathe," in solidarity with those protesting the death of unarmed black man Eric Garner at the hands of police officer Daniel Pantaleo in Staten Island, N.Y. In May, while the Cavaliers were making their run to the NBA Finals, James spoke out about unrest in Cleveland in the midst of public protests after police officer Michael Brelo was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault in connection with the 2012 deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, two unarmed people at whom police fired 137 shots following a high-speed car chase.
Violence is not the answer, and it's all about trying to find a solution for good or for bad," James said at the time, according to ESPN's McMenamin. "For me, in any case, anything that goes on in our world or in our America, the only people that we should be worried about [are] the families that's lost loved ones. You can't get them back. You can never get them back. We should worry about the families and how they're doing and things of that nature."
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