On police and race, LeBron James becomes part of the problem
LeBron James is professional basketball’s greatest player since Michael Jordan. He’s also a political activist, which is his right as an American citizen.
But as is the case with so many who have Twitter and other social media accounts, LeBron doesn’t have much of a filter. When he tweets something, particularly when he’s obviously emotional about news that just broke, his thumbs often seem a few exit ramps ahead of his brain. And this can lead to some reckless rhetoric that has a real impact, considering that he has nearly 50 million followers, about equal to the populations of New York, Florida and Michigan combined.
Exhibit A on the reckless-rhetoric front came after LeBron weighed in on the police shooting of a Black teenage girl in Columbus, Ohio, who – according to police bodycam footage – was attempting to stab another teenage girl with a knife big enough to be visible on the footage.
“These grown girls over here trying to fight us, trying to stab us,” a 911 caller tells a dispatcher. An officer is rushed to the scene wearing a bodycam, which shows him approaching a group of people standing and shouting on a driveway. The officer asks, “What’s going on?”
Moments later, one girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, 16, is seen fighting another girl. Bryant – holding a knife – pushes the girl to the ground before she engages a second girl and appears to throw her against a parked car.
The officer shouts “Get down!” three times before pulling out his gun. He shoots Bryant, who died later at a local hospital.
An already on-edge nation was informed of the shooting Wednesday afternoon, prompting LeBron to send this since-deleted tweet on Wednesday:
LeBron James has since deleted this tweet pic.twitter.com/3DXu0qi9S8
— Weston Blasi (@westonblasi) April 22, 2021
Yup. “You’re next.” Complete with a photo of the officer, which, arguably, could put the officer’s life in danger.
More police officers died in the line of duty in 2020 than in any other year since 1974. Part of the reason was that officers worked despite a pandemic and many died of COVID-19. Another possible reason is that everyone from Democrats and leftwing activist groups to some in the media are not portraying police as noble people serving and protecting their communities but, instead, as racist bad guys who need to be defunded or abolished.
After substantial blowback, James deleted the “You’re next” tweet and provided an explanation as to why. More on that in a bit…
Reported threatening violence pic.twitter.com/N8atwvyfdu
— Emily Miller (@emilymiller) April 21, 2021
Lebron James is inciting violence against an Ohio police officer.
This is disgraceful and dangerous.
Is the NBA okay with this? Is Twitter?
— Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) April 21, 2021
.@KingJames, with his vast resources & influence, should educate himself and, frankly, has a responsibility to do so, on the facts before weighing in. This is disgraceful & extremely reckless.
The officer saved a young girl’s life. No amount of gaslighting will change that fact. pic.twitter.com/GTHn1VAAlf
— National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) (@GLFOP) April 21, 2021
This is the same LeBron James who in 2019 slammed former Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey for having the audacity to tweet, “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”
“So many people could have been harmed,” James warned back then regarding Morey’s tweet, which had provoked sharp responses from China’s ruling party and government. “So just be careful what we tweet, what we say. We do have freedom of speech but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too,” James added at the time.
One would think that the Lakers’ power forward might take himself off the Twitter court regarding the Bryant shooting in Ohio after being criticized as harshly as he’s ever been.
But LeBron, much like the 45th president, seems to have no filter or discipline when it comes to messaging. So, on cue, he went back to the well again: “ANGER does any of us any good and that includes myself! Gathering all the facts and educating does though! My anger still is here for what happened that lil girl. My sympathy for her family and may justice prevail!”
Like many of us on Twitter, LeBron clearly needs an editor or at least needs to proofread his tweets before sending. The assumption is that he hastily sent the tweet and meant “Anger doesn’t do us any good.” Again, no filter. No editor.
ANGER does any of us any good and that includes myself! Gathering all the facts and educating does though! My anger still is here for what happened that lil girl. My sympathy for her family and may justice prevail!
— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 21, 2021
He also just doesn’t get it. Social media is kerosene to a fire that is already burning out of control as it pertains to race and the police. Every shooting is magnified. And seemingly more and more, a certain segment of the population is declaring cops to be guilty until proven innocent, even when potentially saving lives, as initially appears to be the case in Ohio.
LeBron James’s two tweets on the issue have almost 100,000 likes combined on Twitter, where he continues to be a top-trending topic. His words – meant to scare and anger people – carry great weight.
With great power comes great responsibility — something which the greatest basketball player on the planet, and many other celebrities, politicians and media commentators, should learn and remember.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.