For some, Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said to a crowd of thousands, George Floyd’s death on May 25 marked the first time they saw police brutality and racial injustice as issues needing to be addressed.
“For me, I didn’t see it that way,” Pierce said. “I’ve seen this (expletive) for 44 years. I’ve seen it as a black man in this country, and it’s time now that we draw attention to that.”
Pierce delivered a speech focused on criminal-justice reform and ending voter suppression and police brutality before the Georgia NAACP’s peaceful “March on Georgia” event Monday morning in Atlanta, which included a march from the Richard B. Russell Federal Building to the state Capitol.
Hawks players Vince Carter, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, Damian Jones and Bruno Fernando also participated in the march, as well as several assistant coaches and Pierce’s wife, Melissa, and daughter, Maya Joy.
“I didn’t come here to speak as a head coach,” Pierce began. “I came here to speak because a lot of people know me as a friend, a cousin, a nephew, a brother. I have my wife and daughter here with me, but I’m a black man, and I came to speak as a black man to the city of Atlanta today.”
Pierce invoked the names of Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and called out Georgia’s “citizen’s arrest” and “stand your ground” laws, which some Georgia democrats have announced plans to push to repeal. In the case of Arbery, who was shot and killed in Brunswick, with father and son Greg and Travis McMichael charged with felony murder and aggravated assault, Greg McMichael told Glynn County police that he recognized Arbery from surveillance video showing a recent burglary in his mostly white neighborhood, and he planned to perform a citizen’s arrest. William “Roddie” Bryan, who filmed the video capturing Arbery’s death, has been charged with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
One of the goals of the march, Pierce said to the crowd, was to strategize and bring about legislative change, referring back to his friend Killer Mike’s comments after Floyd’s death sparked nation-wide protests: “Our very own Killer Mike here in the city of Atlanta talked about plot, plan and strategize. … What we’re doing here today is strategy. This is a strategy for us to go before the legislators’ office and enact change. To impact change in our city and in our country for African American men.”
Hawks owner Tony Ressler recently announced the Hawks’ plans to help register voters, and Pierce built on that Monday, mentioning the Hawks are trying to make State Farm Arena a polling place.
“I think everybody’s trying to figure out what we can do to handle getting more voters the ability to exercise their right to vote,” Pierce said later, after his speech. “It’s a huge arena. It can handle a huge capacity of people. And we don’t want to restrict, we want to enhance the ability to vote, so that’s one of the options, if we can do it, the other option for us is to come out here and register people in their communities, if it’s more about just getting the word out, whatever it is, we’re trying to do it. That’s been a focal point within the organization. That’s been a focal point for everyone.”
Overall, Pierce is encouraged that this conversation remains at the forefront.
“I think you don’t do it if you don’t have any belief or hope in what you’re doing,” Pierce said. “And I’m encouraged that this has become an issue for everyone, and I’m encouraged that people have shown their outrage, their anger, their support, their protests, their fight in their own individual ways, but I’m encouraged because it’s now a conversation that won’t go away and that shouldn’t go away.”
As the head coach of a professional sports team in the city, and as a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ subcommittee on racial justice, Pierce has a large platform. As someone in a position of leadership, he sees it as a responsibility to speak up and take action.
He has also encouraged his players to speak out on issues they’re passionate about, if they want to do so. For Huerter, who is 21 and going into his third season with the Hawks, this was his first time attending a protest.
“That was honestly the first time that I’ve ever been to anything like that, and I guess that also speaks to a lot of the white privilege that I have,” Huerter said. “Our message as the Hawks is we want to show that we’re united with this, and we’re there for the city.”
Before the march to the capitol began, Pierce concluded his speech: “I want to finish by saying, I was born a black man, and I know one day I’ll die a black man. ... But I don’t want to die because I’m a black man,” Pierce said.
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