- The Washington Times - Friday, June 19, 2020

Two years ago, Bradley Beal said, he was pulled over on the side of Interstate 495 for being black.

The Washington Wizards star revealed the allegation of police racism Friday before several Wizards and Mystics players led a Black Lives Matter march from Capital One Arena to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in honor of Juneteenth.

“The officer asked me to step out of the vehicle. I’m literally on the side of the highway,” Beal said, adding his wife and a friend were in the car with him.

“And he comes up to me and says, ‘What if I f– up your Monday and put you on a (news) headline and arrest you right now?’”

Claiming he was targeted for being black and driving an expensive car, Beal added it wasn’t the only time a police officer had pulled him over when he hadn’t done anything wrong.

In many ways, Friday’s demonstration differed from the protests over recent weeks in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man, under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer who’d arrested him.

It was shorter, with a smaller crowd made up partially of Monumental Sports and Entertainment employees. Of course, several recognizable athletes from the Wizards and the WNBA champion Mystics could be found walking the streets of the District together.

And the mood was more mixed. The athletes were angry as they listed names of other black people who were killed by police or other means, but they also celebrated June 19, the 155th anniversary of the country’s final slaves being freed after the Civil War.

Former Georgetown coach John Thompson III, now the vice president of player engagement at Monumental Basketball, praised the player-led effort to organize the march and said it was “time for uncomfortable conversations.”

Mystics guard Natasha Cloud, one of the first prominent athletes to speak out in the days after Floyd’s death, said the march was in part a challenge to “that weird orange man that’s not my president” for scheduling a political rally on Juneteenth.

President Trump has since changed the date of his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma — the site of the worst racial massacre in U.S. history — to June 20 in deference to Juneteenth.

Speaking outside Capital One Arena at 6th and G streets Northwest before the march began, Cloud described how the video of Floyd’s death “woke up America” and sparked change around the country.

“For our white counterparts, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, y’all got a small glimpse into what we face every single day,” Cloud said.

John Wall, Rui Hachimura, Moritz Wagner, Thomas Bryant and Admiral Schofield were among the other Wizards players to march. Aerial Powers, Myisha Hines-Allen and Tianna Hawkins represented the Mystics. Though she no longer plays for the Mystics, Kristi Toliver joined the march as a Monumental employee in her capacity as a Wizards assistant coach.

D.C. United’s Bill Hamid and Chris Odoi-Atsem, who are black, also took part in the demonstration.

When they reached the memorial, several players and Wizards coach Scott Brooks took turns reading names of black people who’d lost their lives. Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard also attended.

“[The players] take their responsibility seriously, their platform seriously,” Sheppard said. “They’re here to have their voices heard. And this isn’t the end-all, be-all. This is the first step of so many to come. There’s so much work to do, but we’ve got to work together. We’ve all got to stand up. Nobody walks alone in this, we’re all together.”

One notable absence was Mystics forward and WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne.

“There are people who support us who couldn’t be at the march,” Beal said while speaking generally about athlete activism. “That doesn’t mean we don’t love them any less, that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate them.”

Monumental deemed Juneteenth a holiday for its employees and introduced several other initiatives, including an employee match program for those wishing to donate to social justice causes and a promise to engage in advocacy for police reform.

What comes next? The Wizards are tentatively supposed to report for training camp as early as June 30 as part of the NBA’s return-to-play plan. But some NBA stars such as Kyrie Irving and Dwight Howard have argued that resuming the basketball season would be a distraction from Black Lives Matter and issues in the black community.

Wall said on a podcast this week that Irving “has a point” and that he, personally, would not want to play in the “bubble” restart in Orlando, Florida, because he didn’t feel it was safe. Wall will sit out, anyway, as he continues to rehab his Achilles tendon injury from early 2019.

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