Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Defends Protesters, Who He Says Have Been 'Pushed to the Edge'

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said he did not want to see stores looted or buildings burned, but that the protests are a tipping point for black Americans

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Photo: Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has spoken out in defense of those protesting police brutality and systemic racism across the country, saying that while he does not want to see the violence and destruction that has emerged in various cities, the actions are a result of people “pushed to the edge.”

The NBA Hall of Famer, 73, wrote an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times in which he reflected upon the protests spurred on by the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer placed his knee firmly on Floyd’s neck despite his cries that he couldn't breathe.

Abdul-Jabbar wrote that many white people likely looked at the large groups of protesters and expressed concern about a lack of social distancing, or saw people looting Target and felt it was hurting the cause.

He said that while thoughts like that were not wrong, they also were not right, as “the needle hardly budges” when black people attempt to raise awareness in more traditional ways, such as publishing pieces in respected outlets or supporting progressive candidates.

RELATED VIDEO: Minneapolis Police Chief Tells George Floyd's Family That 3 Other Cops Were 'Complicit' in Killing

“I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn,” he wrote. “But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer.”

Adbul-Jabbar also wrote that the coronavirus pandemic has only made matters worse, as black people are dying at “significantly higher” rates than white people, and President Trump has used his platform to call protesters “thugs,” and to seemingly encourage the shooting of looters.

“Just as the slimy underbelly of institutional racism is being exposed, it feels like hunting season is open on blacks,” he wrote.

George Floyd
George Floyd. Facebook

The legendary athlete went on to compare racism in America to dust in the air; though it seems invisible, it’s only when the sun shines on it that you can see it everywhere.

“As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands,” he wrote. “But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.”

With that in mind, he linked things back to concerns over social distancing and looting, and wrote that fears like “whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, or a drive” took greater priority.

Protesters kneel in front of New York City
Protests in New York City on May 31, 2020. John Moore/Getty Images

“What you should see when you see black protesters in the age of Trump and coronavirus is people pushed to the edge, not because they want bars and nail salons open, but because they want to live. To breathe,” he wrote.

Abdul-Jabbar also quoted Langston Hughes and Marvin Gaye to exemplify his point that black people have long been “expected to justify our outraged behavior every time the cauldron bubbles over.”

“So what you see when you see black protesters depends on whether you’re living in that burning building or watching it on TV with a bowl of corn chips in your lap waiting for NCIS to start,” he concluded. “What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice.”

Protest clean up
Volunteers in Minneapolis clean up on Saturday on May 30, 2020 after a night of protests. John Autey/MediaNews Group/St. Paul Pioneer Press via Getty Images

Protests across the country in dozens of cities have raged on for days, with some turning destructive and violent. In New York, 345 people were arrested on Saturday night into Sunday morning, according to ABC News, and video surfaced of an NYPD cruiser driving into a crowd of people.

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, a police precinct was set on fire by protesters, and hundreds of businesses were damaged or looted. The four Minneapolis officers at the scene of the killing have been fired, while Derek Chauvin, the officer seen with his knee on Floyd’s neck, was arrested and charged with third-degree murder.

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