Nerves are fraying. Liquor sales are up. There is a run on guns and ammo. Intimidation tactics are visible on freeways and near polling centers. Businesses are reaching for plywood to cover their windows.
The years of inciteful rhetoric, extremist ideology and lethal weaponry has led us to an election cycle that is pushing many to the edge of panic because it is unlike anything we’ve experienced in modern times.
We’re all bracing for Tuesday, Election Day, and the potential for post-election violence.
This concern touches us all, including those who bring us our beloved sports. As NBA franchises prepare for the Nov. 18 draft – an event that can revitalize or depress the future of an organization – those evaluating talent are doing so while acutely aware of national instability.
“We’ve tried to do as much as we can to make (voting) a great opportunity,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce says. “But you know something is bound to happen, because it always happens.”
Count Pierce among those on extremely high alert. As head coach of the Hawks, he is based in Atlanta. In Georgia. The South.
“I moved here in 2018 at the same time the gubernatorial race was going on with (incumbent Gov. Brian) Kemp and Stacey Abrams,” Pierce says. “Instantly, you’re like, ‘Wow, things are really messed up here in the South.’ The lines. The attention. The suppression. All the issues that came up during that race… and to see the outcome and the many effects of the outcome.
“So, you’re always kind of leery of what’s going on come election day, whether it’s our primary, our runoffs or the presidential election coming up.”
America’s political system, broken from Day 1, has since 2017 been smashed beyond recognition. Voting, a formality for nearly half a century, now generates apprehension.
How can it not, when President Donald Trump consistently threatens to disrupt post-election measures while his supporters run the gamut of infamy?
Furthermore, we have governors actively engaging in voter suppression and, also, the inhumanity of law enforcement officials in several locations attacking voters and marchers with night sticks and pepper spray.
Who would have thought five years ago that the run-up to Election Day would include a group supporting the incumbent trying to intimidate a busload of those supporting his opponent?
The simple act of voting has not been this treacherous, on a national level, for maybe a century. But it’s in line with a pattern of discrimination, says Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
“Maybe the (angriest) I’ve been over the last few weeks has just been seeing the long lines in Georgia, in Michigan and in various places,” he says. “Voting should be easy, right? Everybody should have easy access. We should be doing everything possible to provide people as safe and easy experience. And yet it seems like we do the opposite.
“As a privileged white man, I’ve never had to wait more than five minutes to vote, in any of the precincts where I’ve gone. And, to be frank, in the places where I’ve lived, if people had to wait – privileged white people who live in the town – if they had to wait more than 10 minutes, there would be a commission that would be undertaken. There would be an investigation and things would be fixed the next day.”
Kerr is right, and we all know it.
Kerr dropped off his ballot Saturday at Chase Center, which the Warriors are using as a ballot-drop location through Tuesday. The Hawks decided back in June that they would allow their home venue, State Farm Arena, to be utilized as a polling center. Pierce was among those, including players, driving that decision, which prompted other franchises to follow.
Pierce, who lives in a high-income area outside Atlanta, has on several occasions served as a volunteer to guide citizens through the early-voting process at the arena.
“I don’t have the voter-suppression issues similar to what Steve talked about, and if it happened in my county, we would have some issues waiting 15 minutes,” he says. “Even as a Black man, as a head coach in his city, I’m still trying to learn about Fulton County residents in low-income areas and some of their current needs.”
Kerr and Pierce make no pretense of their motives. They would like to register as many citizens as possible and see every one of them fill out a ballot. It’s math; the higher the percentage of voters, the more likely there will be proper representation of the people.
“You’d like to think that in 2020 we would’ve moved beyond that, but voter suppression is still alive and well,” Kerr says. “It’s just more sophisticated than it used to be.
“And that’s the most infuriating thing about the election, just watching this and coming to grips with the idea that we are actively trying to suppress the votes of many of our fellow citizens – and mostly Black and Brown people.”
It’s the story of this year, the continuation of a trend that began with the gutting of the 1964 Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in a controversial 5-4 decision in 2013, essentially stating people of color no longer faced suppression, and has accelerated during this voting cycle. The aisle that separated left from right has become a wall.
Only the oldest Americans, those that recall Jim Crow laws and the deadly clashes of the Civil Rights Era, know the feeling. This is the week we find out how many yearn for more of that.