Recent years have seen a great deal of discussion – not all of it constructive – about the relationship between the police and the communities they serve. African-Americans killed unjustifiably at the hands of police officers have made headlines nationwide, with the families of those killed receiving little, if any, justice.
Five NFL players are in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, spending their off-day trying to open conversation with the country’s decision-makers: Detroit Lions receiver Anquan Boldin and teammate Glover Quin, Cleveland Browns QB Josh McCown and WR Andrew Hawkins, and Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins.
Boldin organized the trip, after losing a cousin at the hands of a plainclothes police officer in Florida last year.
Corey Jones, a 31-year old musician, was shot and killed along the side of a South Florida highway on Oct. 18, 2015 by Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja. Sitting in his car, which had broken down,
A grand jury found the shooting unjustified, and in June, Raja was charged with attempted first-degree murder with a firearm and manslaughter by culpable negligence by a prosecutor. The trial is not expected to begin until summer 2017, nearly two years after Jones was killed.
Boldin, now in his 14th season and the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2015, recognized for his play on the field and good works off it, began thinking of what he could do, and reached out to Quin, Hawkins, McCown and Jenkins, all well-respected players, to head to Washington with him.
The five men were to meet with several congressmen, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Florida Rep. Patrick Murphy, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Boldin would like answers for not only his family, but all families who have experienced such a tragedy.
“No. 2, you want to see changes in policy, in terms of how we train our police officers. And lastly, you want to see accountability – that justice will be served for all – to make sure that the relationship between the African-American community and police can be better. There’s work to be done on both sides because there’s a huge mistrust there. I want to help close that gap.”
Hawkins, who wore a T-shirt on the field in December 2014 pleading for justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford, two African-American Ohio residents who had been killed by police officers, wondered how much would be accomplished on the day, but sees it as an important first step.
“I’m not a lawmaker, and I don’t come from a background of politics,” Hawkins said. “My expertise is in the communities that I grew up in, the people that I know, the firsthand encounters that I’ve had. I’m just curious to hear what our congressmen have to say, as people who are in charge of government and who have that responsibility and power. I want to get the other side of it.
“Going forward, this is more of a baseline than anything. We’re probably not having extensive meetings and sitting there and loosening our ties and really getting down to business, so I don’t know how much can be accomplished or how much can be said. But it’s a first step and an important step because you can’t get to the next one without this one.”
Boldin believes that it’s incumbent upon athletes like himself to be part of the solution, and not leave it only to elected officials and others in government.
“There’s a huge divide in our country now, and if we don’t find a way to heal it, things are only going to get worse,” Boldin said. “I don’t want to bring my kids up in a country like that. I don’t think any of us do. We’ve got to do some work. And we can’t leave it to politicians and the government alone. We have to make a difference. If we don’t, we’re doomed.”
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