LOS ANGELES — Carmelo Anthony brought all members of the United States men’s and women’s basketball Olympic teams together Monday for a discussion with community leaders and local children and young adults in light of recent police violence.
The event, which Anthony called “an open forum, open dialogue, and honest conversation,” explored issues of trust, communication, and respect between police officers and civilians. Multiple participants said afterward that there were tears and tension throughout.
“There was some very, very powerful messages that were being talked about amongst not just us as athletes, but the youth,” Anthony said at a news conference afterward. “And the youth really, really spoke out today about how they feel about their community, how they feel about police officers, how they feel about relationships, and how we can mend these relationships.”
About 200 people in total, including representatives from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Brotherhood Crusade, and local Boys & Girls Clubs, spoke for about two hours, first in one large group and then in eight smaller groups. Members of the U.S. men’s and women’s teams were a part of each smaller group.
One of the goals was to turn words and ideas into solutions and actions. Anthony saw this “direct dialogue” as a way to start moving down that path.
“It’s going to take a collective effort,” Anthony said. “And it’s going to take time. But we have to start it by talking about it, being honest with each other, not just pointing the finger at the officers, or the officers pointing the fingers at us.”
The discussion, which was held at the Challengers Boys & Girls Club in South Los Angeles, was closed to the media to ensure open dialogue between participants.
Los Angeles Police Department commanding officer William Scott was also involved and spoke afterward. Scott said it makes a “tremendous difference” when athletes of this stature insert themselves in the broader discussion.
“It brings not only attention to the issue, but it actually multiplies the facilitation of the dialogue,” Scott said. “Most of these children would not have been in this room talking with police had it not been for what these athletes are doing.”
Anthony said the idea to organize the event came to him at 3 a.m. one night after watching CNN all day after one of the shootings.
“I went to bed and I woke up in the middle of the night, and I just started typing,” Anthony said. “And as I was typing, I just started speaking, I spoke from the heart. And the first thing that came to my mind, I have to get my athletes, my fellow athletes to step up and use their voices, use their platform.”
Anthony’s voice has been as loud as any athlete’s in the wake of recent police shootings. On July 8, the day of the Dallas sniper attack, Anthony posted the following message on Instagram:
First off let me start off by saying " All Praise Due To The Most High." Secondly, I'm all about rallying, protesting, fighting for OUR people. Look I'll even lead the charge, By Any Means Necessary. We have to be smart about what we are doing though. We need to steer our anger in the right direction. The system is Broken. Point blank period. It has been this way forever. Martin Luther King marched. Malcolm X rebelled. Muhammad Ali literally fought for US. Our anger should be towards the system. If the system doesn't change we will continue to turn on the TVs and see the same thing. We have to put the pressure on the people in charge in order to get this thing we call JUSTICE right. A march doesn't work. We tried that. I've tried that. A couple social media post/tweet doesn't work. We've all tried that. That didn't work. Shooting 11 cops and killing 5 WILL NOT work. While I don't have a solution, and I'm pretty sure a lot of people don't have a solution, we need to come together more than anything at this time. We need each other. These politicians have to step up and fight for change. I'm calling for all my fellow ATHLETES to step up and take charge. Go to your local officials, leaders, congressman, assemblymen/assemblywoman and demand change. There's NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore. Those days are long gone. We have to step up and take charge. We can't worry about what endorsements we gonna lose or whose going to look at us crazy. I need your voices to be heard. We can demand change. We just have to be willing to. THE TIME IS NOW. IM all in. Take Charge. Take Action. DEMAND CHANGE. Peace7 #StayMe7o
A photo posted by @carmeloanthony on Jul 8, 2016 at 8:02am PDT
Anthony was also one of four NBA stars who took the stage at the beginning of the ESPYs two weeks ago to urge fellow athletes to take action and push for social change.
“We cannot ignore the reality of the current state of America,” Anthony said at the ESPYs. “The events of the past week have put a spotlight on the injustice, distrust and anger that plague so many of us.
“The system is broken. The problems are not new. The violence is not new. And the racial divide definitely is not new. But the urgency to create change is at an all-time high.”
Last summer, Anthony walked with peaceful protesters in Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death. Anthony was born in Brooklyn, but moved to Baltimore as a child.
Tamika Catchings, who also spoke at the news conference and participated in the discussion along with her U.S. teammates, was one of many WNBA players initially fined by the league for wearing black warmup shirts. Her Indiana Fever and the New York Liberty refused to answer basketball-related questions after a recent game in response to the fines. The WNBA announced Saturday that it had rescinded the fines.
“Now it’s not just about a conversation,” Catchings said after Monday’s event. “Now it’s about putting things into action, and making sure that together we keep that conversation alive, and we put forth the action behind that.”
Catchings said she planned to talk to Paul George about bringing similar discussions back to Indiana.
Charisse Weaver, the president of the Brotherhood Crusade, said one of the ideas raised Monday was a community service requirement for police officers similar to the one NBA players have.
Scott emphasized that discussions like Monday’s, even if they are just discussions and nothing more, are useful for all involved.
“The perspectives that were brought to this discussion can really open our minds,” he said. “As a law enforcement professional, it makes me better, and hopefully from the community side of things, maybe us sharing our perspective gives them a lens into our world, and why we do what we do.”