Steve Kerr wasn’t shocked to hear of another Black man killed by law enforcement, and neither was Lloyd Pierce. They’re NBA coaches, Kerr with the Warriors and Pierce with the Hawks. They’re also activists.
They’re achingly familiar with such incidents as that which took place Monday in Philadelphia.
Walter Wallace Jr., 27, was shot multiple times by multiple police officers in Philadelphia. He was waving a knife while experiencing a mental health crisis when he was killed by officers standing at least 10 feet away. His mother went from begging the officers not to shoot to wailing in agony as her son dropped to the pavement.
The incident was, of course, caught on video. It’s nauseating. It’s too routine in America.
“We've come to expect this sort of thing,” Kerr said. “The disturbing thing, the most disturbing thing, that is even after the social justice movement, all the protests and even after all the anger and the outrage, these incidents are still happening.
“There's got to be an alternative way of meeting the needs of mental health issues, rather than going in with a SWAT team, guns blazing.”
When emotions run hot, as they are in Philly, they can metastasize and evolve into pain and anger that easily spins out of control in city streets. We’ve seen too much of it in recent months. Saw it in Minneapolis. Saw it in Louisville. Saw it in Austin. Saw violent confrontations spread to, among other cities, New York and Portland and Los Angeles and Buffalo and Washington D.C.
It’s Philadelphia’s turn to ache and lash out.
“You start to feel guilty about the incidents that you haven't heard about, because you know there are more than what we saw (Monday),” Pierce said. "But it continues to happen.
“Which is why we're all in this world of hurt and pain every time we see it. They continue to put a knife in your heart every time you feel another person having their life lost, and to see it on camera and to see all of the things that could have happened, and should have happened, as opposed to what did happen.”
The pattern of violent conflict between police and people of color is so pervasive that anyone with a soul is experiencing some level of post-traumatic stress. It’s an awful way to live.
Pierce, head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, joined Kerr in the upcoming episode of “Race in America: A Candid Conversation," which airs Friday night at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area. Many topics were discussed, but it was clear they both feel the pain of those who are suffering.
“The thing that really concerns me is the traumatic aspect of everyone else that's involved,” said Pierce, who is the chairman of Coaches for Racial Justice, formed by the NBA in the wake of the murder of George Floyd last May in Minneapolis.
“There was a mother that saw her son being shot. There are people that were in that community that saw their neighbor and their friend being shot. We would like to say this was because of one situation or whatever we didn't see prior to. But there's a very big traumatic experience that's going to come out of this.
“So how do we go into the community and help them? Because they're not just going to move on. We're not just going to move on. There are so many unintended consequences that occur as a result of a failure to protect and serve our communities.”
Both coaches have marched in the streets to promote equality. Both are deeply invested in the voting process. They make a living in sports, but they also long for a more humane society.
Kerr, one of eight coaches serving on the committee, is a passionate voice for the reform of gun laws, largely a by-product of his father, Prof. Malcolm Kerr, being assassinated in 1984 by terrorists in Beirut.
Kerr, like Pierce, can’t help but wonder where all this visible violence and resultant trauma is taking us.
“This is a fundamental issue in our society today,” he said. “The trauma that our children are being raised with, the visual of people being gunned down, whether it's an issue of police brutality or maybe a school shooting, the prevalence of guns and violence in our country is so out of hand. What's the toll that it's going to take on our future generations? What kind of country do we want to become? And where are we heading?”
We don’t know, can’t begin to know, what the future holds. That, along with a deadly pandemic raging through the country, is why there is such a strong undercurrent of anxiety in America.
When a man is shot and killed with only the briefest de-escalation attempts, who can be surprised when much of that anxiety turns to outrage?