Q&A: Kings forward Harrison Barnes discusses death of Tyre Nichols, state of policing

José Luis Villegas/AP

The Sacramento Kings held a team meeting before Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves to address the death of Tyre Nichols, a day after video was released of the 29-year-old sustaining injuries from Memphis police officers that ultimately cut his life short.

Nichols, a Black man, died in a hospital three days after he was brutally beaten by five Black police officers during a Jan. 7 traffic stop. Nichols was from Sacramento and moved to the Memphis area just before the pandemic. A vigil was held at a skate park in Sacramento on Monday with approximately 100 friends and family members there to honor his memory.

Kings forward Harrison Barnes has spoken out about social justice and police brutality issues throughout his 12 NBA seasons. The organization has promoted social justice, racial equality and civic engagement in recent years, highlighted by joint efforts with the Milwaukee Bucks to host a “Team Up for Change” summit, as well as joining Black Lives Matter Sacramento to support the Build. Black. Coalition initiative to invest in Black youth in the area.

The Bee spoke with Barnes during a shootaround in Minneapolis over the weekend to discuss Nichols, social injustice and policing.

Did you see the Tyre Nichols video and, if so, what was your reaction?

Barnes: I wasn’t able to watch the full video. But it’s obviously horrific that that happened. I think we’re past the “bad apple” narrative. I think the policing in this country is systematically flawed. And, obviously, praying for his family and loved ones through this difficult time.

Does it feel any differently for you knowing he still has family and connections in Sacramento?

Barnes: I’d say any time there’s loss of life in that way, which, not only did it happen, but video was released publicly, it’s sometimes very hard to deal with it. I think there’s trauma associated with having to watch a death on camera and how much that has happened over the last few years.

With increased exposure to incidents like this one, George Floyd and others, do you think any progress is being made? Or are we just more aware of examples of terrible outcomes without the proper changes being made?

Barnes: I don’t think strides are being taken. Or, if so, not enough to make change. I mean, how many of these cases have happened where somebody has lost a life and there hasn’t been a video? We’re just talking about the videos that have been released and they’re happening at such a frequency that it’s becoming commonplace to see this type of injustice, this type of tragedy regularly. So I don’t think that we’re making the necessary strides, the necessary changes, systemically, that we need to make in this country.

Given so many people expect NBA players and other athletes to use their platforms to address these issues, does that burden ever get tiresome? Particularly because the needed changes are not being made?

Barnes: No, it’s important to address these types of things that have happened because at the end of the day, when any player leaves the arena, we’re normal citizens just like anyone else. This could have been any one of us who was driving home or who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And news cycles are so short, it’s easy for things to be relevant and talked about for a small period of time, but it’s hard to be maintained, especially when a trial goes on, especially when a family is grieving, especially to talk about the next steps. I personally don’t get tired of talking about these types of things. And I think a lot of players in this league, as well as the league itself, use this platform to address those types of things.

What have the conversations about these things been like with your teammates and NBA peers?

Barnes: These are discussions that guys have had individually, we’ve had as a team. We’ll discuss it from the players union, at that level. But it’s one of those things you can’t escape from, you know? It touches home. It’s close to home. We all have family that travel and move around when we move around. Like I said, this could have been anyone. So you just have to be mindful of what’s going on, but also acknowledge that where we’re at right now, things are very flawed.

Do you have any ideas or things you would like to see happen in terms of trying to impact change?

Barnes: There’s so many things to say and do, but I think right now the most important thing is showing support for the family. But also taking steps to ensure that we don’t see this again in a week, in a month, in two months, again and again and again. I think that’s where it has to be. A lot of people said when George Floyd was killed, “This is gonna be the last time we see something like this.” And how many people have died at the hands of police in that time period?