After more than a year of waiting, Tamir Rice's family and community finally got an answer. On Monday, a Cleveland grand jury declined to indict police officer Timothy Loehmann for fatally shooting the 12-year-old boy, despite how the incident played out in security footage ― Rice was shot by Loehmann within two seconds of the police car pulling up at Cleveland's Cudell Recreation Center. Now, protesters are calling on one of Ohio's favorite sons to take a stand. Tamir Rice protesters want LeBron James to stop playing until justice is done.
There's a hashtag, too: #NoJusticeNoLeBron. In the simplest terms, proponents want James to sit out NBA games to protest the non-indictment. The precise terms of the hypothetical sit-out (boycott, strike, whatever you want to call it) vary among different people, from James staying off the court until justice is done for Rice, to him leading a broader walkout of NBA players.
There's no denying that it's a dramatic plan. And in all seriousness, James could never play a basketball game again, and he'd still retire with a legendary career and mountains of wealth. But there's also a case to be made that it's unfair to uniquely burden him because of a racist, oppressive society. And given the myriad legal issues that could arise if he refused to honor the terms of his contract, you really shouldn't expect him to actually put his career on the line this way. But it would be surprising if he didn't respond to these events at all, because even if you don't always agree with him, James hasn't been shy about broaching these sorts of issues before.
Back in March 2012, James had yet to win an NBA championship, and within sports circles, he'd become a widely-reviled figure for leaving his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to join the Miami Heat. But during his inaugural season with the Heat, he showed an awareness, sensitivity, and humanity that matters a whole lot more than provincial rooting interests. He and his team stood up for a cause that plenty of sports organizations wouldn't dream of touching, and it was powerful. In a team photo, they donned black hoodies ― what Martin was wearing the night he was killed (and which absorbed a lot of absurd, racially-coded blame for what happened).
Many NBA players made their feelings known after the death-by-chokehold of Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014. After a grand jury declined to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, a number of high-profile players donned "I Can't Breathe" shirts, including James. He also spoke out following the Garner non-indictment:
This is our country, the land of the free, and we keep having these incidents happen, innocent victims or whatever the case may be ... Our families are losing loved ones. I'm not pointing the blame at anybody that's making it happen. In society, we've come a long way, but it just goes to show how much further we still have to go.
When a St. Louis grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot unarmed black teen Michael Brown in August 2014, James shared the above image with his Instagram followers. Predictably, like almost any statement about race on social media, it was met with some deeply offensive, gross reactions as well as positive ones, and it generated some attention in the mainstream media. James also gave the following comment to ESPN, lamenting the violence that erupted in Ferguson the night of the non-indictment:
What does that do? What does that actually do? Just hurt more families, hurt more people, draw more attention to things that shouldn't even be going on instead of people going to the family's household and praying with them. And saying, 'Things are going to be great.' You know, 'Mike Brown is in a better place now,' and 'Trayvon Martin is in a better place now.' That's where it should be. I mean, burning down things and shooting up things and running cars into places and stealing and stuff like that, what does that do? It doesn't make you happy.