There’s a reason the killing of George Floyd has become so powerful.
“There’s no alternative narrative than can be created with this one,” said Michael Carter, the former high school basketball coach at Springfield South and Trotwood Madison and now the Chief Diversity Officer at Sinclair Community College and the senior advisor to the school’s president.
“With Tamir Rice’s killing, people made excuses that it looked like he had a gun. With Philando Castile, they said, ‘Well, he had gun in the glove box.’”
In the case of Rice, who was just 12, it was a toy gun and the 911 caller had explained that. Afterward, the Cleveland cop was fired.
As for Castile, he told the St. Anthony, Minn. officer the licensed weapon was in the glove box and, as a video shows, he did not reach for it. That officer was later fired, as well.
“With George Floyd it’s different,” Carter said. “There was no hiding behind anything. People have had to deal with the visual and the rawness of it.”
Floyd – a 46-year-old unarmed black man who was handcuffed and lying on his stomach – died May 25 in Minneapolis when a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes as two other officers also pushed Floyd down and a fourth officer stood watch a few feet away.
For the first six minutes or so Floyd said he couldn’t breathe and pleaded for his life.
After that he lay motionless with no pulse.
“When people watched that they had to decide where they stood,” Carter said.
People have and every day since then massive protests have gone on in cities and towns across the nation. While some gatherings were marred by violence and looting — carried out by opportunists, outside agitators and, in some cases, white supremacist instigators — the predominantly peaceful campaigns have targeted violence and systemic racism toward people of color.
“I pray this is not just another moment in time where people come out and then go on to something else,” Carter said.
“But one thing that I think makes this a little different – and I’m saying this as a former coach – is that you’re seeing pushback from people in the sports world.
“Drew Brees got immediate pushback the other day and he’s a beloved figure. Mike Norvell, the Florida State coach, was quickly called out by his players when he said what he said and it turned out not to be true.”
Last week Brees made comments about kneeling NFL players disrespecting the flag. He was challenged by teammates and other high-profile sports figures who said the acts were not meant to target the flag, but were a desperate plea for social justice.
He changed his stance and now has pledged to be an “ally” for the black community in “the fight for racial equality and justice.”
Norvell claimed he had one-on-one conversations with every player on his team about the recent protests. That never happened and he soon ‘fessed up.
“This time people are really holding others’ feet to the fire,” Carter said. “You really saw that with the basketball coach at North Carolina Central who called out white coaches from the Power 5 conferences who have remained silent on the issue even though they make millions with black athletes.”
Carter was referring to NCCU’s LeVelle Moton and his emotional comments to ESPN Radio.
“And look at how strong Ryan Day and John Harbaugh have been,” Carter said of the Ohio State and Michigan football coaches. “Day has marched, created a video and taken a knee with police. He understands his sphere of influence.”
That made Carter think of a keepsake he has in the basement of his and wife Debbie’s Vandalia home:
“I’ve got a huge photograph of the Cleveland Summit. That always made an impression with me. It’s a picture of Muhammad Ali when he announced he was not going to Vietnam. Standing with him was Jim Brown and Bill Russell. Bobby Mitchell was in the background.
“But the most powerful piece there was Lew Alcindor before he ever became Kareem. He was an amateur athlete then and he had a lot to lose. But he was willing to lend support to something he believed in.
“In the end you want to end up on the right side of history. But that’s not always easy.
“Look at John Carlos and Tommie Smith. They lost their Olympic medals, but today we know they were on the right side of history. It’s the same for Muhammad Ali.
“And Martin Luther King had many people who opposed him and hated him, but ended up on the right side of history, too.
“Now comes this moment. Some issues are matters of opinion, but some, like this one, are simply a matter of what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Carter knows plenty about sports and race and the history of the two.
His father – who came to Springfield from Cynthiana, Ky. – was a Clark County deputy sheriff and the first black jail warden in the state of Ohio.
His mother, who worked as a cook and a domestic, was born in Tulsa, Okla. and was 2 years old when the 1919 Tulsa Race Riot became the single worst act of racial violence in American history.
In a two-day rampage, a 35-block black neighborhood was destroyed by a white mob. Homes and businesses were burned to the ground. A state commission later estimated up to 300 people were killed and 800 were injured. Some 10,000 blacks were left homeless.
“My grandmother lost her home in the riot,” Carter said. “She and her three daughters – my mom was one of them – ended up living in Restoration Park, which they turned into a refugee camp. Finally, when my mother was a teenager, she moved to Springfield.”
Carter – along with his older brother Darnell and sister Nancy – grew up on Lexington Avenue in Springfield’s East End. Their parents saw to it that they got a good education, both in the classroom and for the real world.
“They were just removed from segregation and they tried to protect us from the experiences of racism,” he said. “But that’s not easy to do.
“Springfield was fairly socially progressive back then. We were the first city of our size in the country – Cleveland was he first big city – to have a black mayor.
“When we traveled though, my parents had a green book.”
He was talking about the Negro Motorists’ Green Book, a driving guide that listed the hotels, restaurants, car repair shops and other businesses that served blacks during the repressive Jim Crow days when many places refused African Americans.
“My father was a proud man and he wasn’t going to be told where he and his family could stay,” Carter said. “And just to be safe, we only did day trips. Our mother would pack a lunch and have it in the cooler.”
Carter said his dad instructed his sons what to do if they ever were stopped by police and he also told them what towns in the Miami Valley to avoid because of the communal intolerance.
After an athletic career at Springfield South, Carter went to Wittenberg University. His brother Darnell got his undergrad degree at Concordia College in Minnesota, his law degree at Drake and his master’s in history at Ohio State.
While they were times when he was younger when he was stopped in car for no reason, Carter said “what’s most frustrating have been the times I’ve been pulled over from 40 on.”
Two summers ago, he was 58 then, he was driving his brother’s truck in northwest Ohio near Van Wert. Darnell was with him, as were two of their friends.
“A Ohio Highway Patrolman pulled me over and wanted to know if it was my truck,” he said. “Things like this aren’t isolated. I heard DL Hughley talking about it one day on The View and that’s when it hit me.
“There’s not an African American man in this country who hasn’t had at least one negative encounter with law enforcement,”
While that gnaws at him, what’s more hurtful is when something like that happens to one of his two sons.
Some years ago he said he got a call from a conscientious guidance counselor at school who wanted to give him a heads up that his seventh-grade son, who had a B average, was being put into a general math class rather than algebra, which was part of the curriculum path necessary to go on to college.
Being an educator himself, Carter and his wife went to the school to talk to the teacher,
“I said, ‘So I’m assuming every kid who had a B average is going into general math?’” Carter asked. “She started to stutter and after a while she mentioned behavior. I said, ‘Well, this is May and we haven’t gotten one call all year. And besides that, what does behavior have do with achievement?’
“It was a red flag, but we were never sure. He was the only black student, but you don’t know if race was a factor or not. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. That’s the thing many black people face. That’s the trauma of the experience.”
‘Call things out that are wrong’
When it comes to the current crisis, Carter said the roles of blacks and whites are different:
“For blacks, it’s demanding that we are treated equitably. And for whites, it’s going beyond saying, ’Well, I’m not racist.’ That’s a passive response.
“But if you are anti-racist, that’s more challenging. That means becoming an advocate. You become vocal. You call things out that are wrong.”
He pointed to two great examples in sports:
“The things Chris Long has done in the NFL are really something. And so are all the things Chris Borland is doing.”
Long, who spent 11 seasons in the NFL and was the league’s Walter Payton Man of the Year, donated his entre salary some seasons to charitable causes, including many involving African-Americans.
Borland – the Alter High grad who then starred at Wisconsin and with the San Francisco 49ers – is active in numerous social causes and last October put on the Dayton Peace Festival.
“Players like that have a real platform,” Carter said. “What if every white player in the NFL took a knee? That would change things. If it’s just black players, people can say ‘Aaah, they’re ungrateful.’ But you could change the narrative if white guys said, ‘I’m with you!’”
If that seems like a stretch in these polarizing times, well consider the other side of the coin for something even more inconceivable.
“One thing that’s difficult for people of color is being hated for no reason,” Carter said. “Right or wrong, whether it’s misguided or not, people of color, if they don’t like you, they have a reason. It might not be a good reason. It may not be the right reason. But it’s a reason.
“But being hated for no reason, I struggle with that. That’s hard to take.”
And right now a lot of people aren’t taking it anymore.
Like Carter said, it’s simply “a matter of what’s right and what’s wrong.”
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