Kings players host town hall meeting, look to break down racial divides

Kings players host town hall meeting, look to break down racial divides

SACRAMENTO -- Dropping the Golden 1 Center in the heart of Downtown Sacramento’s core was designed to revitalize a city in need of a boost. But it can’t just be about restaurants, nightlife and a shiny new arena. It has to be inclusive and a place where all of the greater Sacramento area feels welcome and safe.

On the eve of one of the most contentious presidential election in recent history, members of the Sacramento Kings spent Monday evening trying to build relationships in their own community when they hosted a town hall meeting featuring 150 local youth and members of law enforcement at a local church.

“We opened up a meeting with the young students and the players set the tone,” NBA security representative and retired lieutenant Sacramento Sheriff Dwight Pruitt said. “It was to have dialogue with the community and talk about some of the recent issues that have been active in the media.”

DeMarcus Cousins, Matt Barnes, Rudy Gay and Garrett Temple are attempting to use their celebrity status to help break down racial divides between minorities and those taxed with protecting them.

Similar in their choice to stand arm-in-arm during the national anthem, the Kings players are looking for solutions to bring people together, not furthering the growing frustration in our society.   

“The players had a desire to do something positive in this community to try and bridge the gap,” deputy chief of police, Ken Bernard said. “We began a conversation a few weeks ago and this is where we’re at. It couldn’t have gone better. It was a tough conversation, but the important thing was the kids or the youth saw people they respect on the same stage with law enforcement asking heart-felt questions and us hopefully providing heart-felt and honest answers.”

While the media wasn’t allowed in to see the forum, the word coming out of the meeting was that is wasn’t all smiles and high-fives. It was a learning experience for everyone involved. Students asked tough questions about specific cases around the country where people were killed by police. The discussion was emotional and by all accounts eye opening.

“Just as we fear them, they fear us,” Barnes said of law enforcement. “They don’t know what they’re going to get into when they pull us over in a car. There’s fear on both sides and it circles back to the lack of knowledge and lack of understanding. So we need to be able to open up the dialogue and be able to communicate and hopefully slow this problem down.”

The emotion was palpable when speaking to both the officers and the players. Understanding both sides of the takes dialogue. The word ‘fear’ continued to come up from both sides tried to express their experience.

“I learned there’s fear in the community still,” Bernard said. “I think it’s in certain areas more than others and we have a lot of work as a profession to break down those barriers. But I also learned it’s going to take us pushing in, but also those communities pulling us in to build those relationships.”

The plan moving forward is to continue this type of outreach with players and law enforcement holding more town hall type meetings and possibly even going into communities together for events to build stronger bonds with the citizens of Sacramento.

“I think this is something that can really promote change,” Gay said.

“It’s very important to start a dialogue,” Temple added. “The protests are all fine, and good actually - very good. But, there needs to be action.”

The impetus behind this meeting came from Cousins’ stint with Team USA where he watched the power that this type of conversation could have through one of his teammates.  

“I saw the panel Carmelo Anthony put together and we were in Compton, California,” Cousins said. “Just listening to the kids and listening to the community, it touched me. I understood and I wanted to bring it back where I’m from and the city I live in as well.”

Cousins held a similar meeting in his hometown of Mobile, Alabama over the offseason. While plenty of professional athletes have turned to silent protests, Cousins has found a voice as an active advocate of change.

The Kings’ two-time All-Star center has been a fixture in the Sacramento community since he was drafted by the team in 2010. While Cousins’ demeanor on the court has been question throughout his career, he has done incredible work off the floor, including free basketball clinics and eye exams to underprivileged youth, donations to local high schools and even paying for the funeral of a fallen high school football player.

He is as visible as any Kings player, regularly frequenting high school sporting events around the area. And he plays Santa Cuz every Christmas season, buying gifts for local families.

While he never seeks credit for his work in the community, Cousins has impacted the lives of plenty of youth in the Sacramento area.

“It’s starting here and like DeMarcus said, this is not the end, this is just the beginning,” Temple said. “But it’s very important for us to use our platform to create the change that we all want to see.”

The meeting concluded with the youth swarming the players to take pictures or just give them hugs. The police had hot dogs cooking on a grill outside and the overall feeling was that a small step was taken in a long road to break down racial tensions between law enforcement and the people they are sworn to serve.

“I think it was a beautiful thing, I think it was a positive thing, I think it was steps in the right direction,” said Cousins.

Report: Former Kings star offers to pay for Stephon Clark's funeral

Report: Former Kings star offers to pay for Stephon Clark's funeral

Former Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins reportedly reached out to Stephon Clark's family and offered to cover the cost of his a funeral, according to The Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones

Sacramento police shot and killed Clark, a 22-year-old African-American father of two, on Sunday while he was holding a cellphone in the backyard of his grandmother's home. Clark was unarmed. 

During his six-and-a-half year tenure in Sacramento, Cousins was not only the face of the Kings on the court, but the face of outreach efforts off of it. He paid for the funeral of Sacramento-area high school football player Jaulon "JJ" Clavo, who was shot in 2015, and ran free children's basketball camps for the city's children during the summer.

He continued to run a camp last summer following a midseason trade to the New Orleans Pelicans, and has spoken at length about how much he treasures maintaining strong ties to Sacramento. He told The Sacramento Bee last February that he "still consider[s Sacramento] a home."

“It’s very important to me,” Cousins told The New Orleans Advocate in October. “I’ve built relationships in a lot of the different places I’ve been. My biggest thing is helping those kids and helping families in need. I was once in their position, and it would’ve done wonders if I could’ve had a little bit of help coming up. I’m just doing my part.”

Bodycam footage from the officer-involved shooting was released on Wednesday, setting off protests on Thursday. Protestors blocked traffic on Interstate 5 both ways, according to NPR, before locking arms and surrounding the Golden 1 Center ahead of Hawks-Kings that night. Those protests delayed the start of the game by 15 minutes, and an estimated 15,000 fans were unable to enter the arena. 

Kings find themselves in middle of protest as sports, politics collide: 'It has to stop'

Kings find themselves in middle of protest as sports, politics collide: 'It has to stop'

SACRAMENTO -- Basketball took a backseat Thursday evening at Golden 1 Center. Protesters surrounded the Sacramento Kings’ facility, locking arms and blocking the entrance to an estimated 15,000 fans. The game was delayed by nearly 15 minutes and the limited number of ticket holders that made it into the building were basically put on lock down and supplied with free food for the evening.

This issue at hand was the officer involved shooting death of Stephon Clark, a local South Sacramento man that was killed Sunday evening.

Video of the shooting was released by the Sacramento Police Department Wednesday afternoon, setting off community outcry in Sacramento.

In perhaps his finest moment as owner and chairman of the Sacramento Kings, Vivek Ranadivé took center court surrounded by his players to address the undersized crowd.

“On Sunday, we had a horrific, horrific tragedy in our community and on behalf of the players, the executives, ownership and the entire Kings family, I first of all want to express our deepest sympathies to the family. What happened was absolutely horrific and we are so very sorry for your loss.

I also want to say that we at the Kings recognize your people’s ability to protest peacefully and we respect that. We here at the Kings recognize that we have a big platform. It’s a privilege, but it’s also a responsibility. It’s a responsibility that we take very seriously and we stand before you; old, young, black, white, brown and we are all united in our commitment.

We recognize that it’s not just business as usual and we are going to work really hard to bring everybody together to make the world a better place, starting in our own community. We are going to work hard to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again.”

Protests continued throughout the night in the courtyard adjacent to Golden 1 Center. Security and police stood guard at each entrance, trying to keep the events outside the building from spilling into the team’s two-year-old facility.

The locker room was quiet. Despite the 105-90 victory by the Kings, basketball was the last thing on anyone’s mind.

"I just want to say I 100 percent agree with the protest outside,” Garrett Temple said following the game. “If I didn't have a job to do, I probably would have been out there with them peacefully protesting, because what's going on has to stop. It has to stop.”

Sacramento’s leader behind the scenes, Temple has been active in reaching out in the community and fostering conversation with local youth. He wasn’t able to play in Thursday evening’s game due to a left ankle sprain, but that didn’t stop him from waiting around to field questions.

“I think the protest did what it was supposed to do, it brought a light to what’s going on, I think that’s what protests are for,” Temple added. “After that, something has to change. Us not playing a basketball game isn’t going to change the fact that police unfortunately view black and brown men as a threat, when they are certainly not.”

Temple said that he had viewed the video and admitted that it was dark. A split second decision by a police officer cost Clark, a 22-year-old African American, his life. According to published reports, Clark was holding his mobile phone and not a weapon as officers believed.

The tragic events played out in seconds, but it’s storyline that many communities around the country have had to face on countless occasions.

Temple isn’t one to sit by idly by and bite his tongue. He may have addressed the shooting on his own with or without the protest going on outside the arena. But with the events of the night, politics and sports intersected at 500 David J. Stern Walk, opening a door for Temple to express himself.

“To those that say politics and sports don’t intertwine, this is a democracy, people have a voice and we’re people at the end of the day,” Temple said. “Obviously, sports and politics definitely intertwined tonight. The protesters did what they wanted to do in terms of bring light to the situation.”

In addition to Ranadivé’s comments following then contest, the Kings put out two separate press releases. The first came out around 7 pm to update fans of the current status of the game.

"Tonight's game began with a delay. Due to law enforcement being unable to ensure ticketed fans could safely enter the arena, the arena remains closed and we ask fans outside to travel home. We will issue further information soon regarding a refund."

The second press release came later to insure fans that they would receive a refund.

“Due to law enforcement being unable to ensure ticketed fans could safely enter the arena, the arena remained closed as tonight’s game proceeded with a delay. In the coming days, guests who purchased tickets for tonight’s game directly through the Sacramento Kings or Ticketmaster will receive detailed instructions to facilitate a full refund.”

The Kings return to the court Sunday afternoon for a 3pm matinee game.