Memphis Grizzlies forward Xavier Tillman keeps the ball from Lakers guard Wesley Matthews on Sunday in Memphis, Tenn. (Wade Payne / Associated Press)
Wesley Matthews’ emotions were raw as the Lakers guard reacted to the news that the Kenosha County Dist. Atty. in Wisconsin declined to press criminal charges Tuesday against a white police officer who shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, in the back seven times in August.
The decision was all the more troubling for Matthews because he grew up in Wisconsin and he played last season for the Milwaukee Bucks, the team that decided to boycott a playoff game in protest of the Blake shooting.
According to the Associated Press, Michael Graveley, the district attorney, said investigators came to the conclusion that Blake was carrying a knife when police responded to a report he was attempting to steal a car. Officer Rusten Sheskey said he “feared Jacob Blake was going to stab him with the knife” as he tried to stop Blake from fleeing the scene.
“I do not believe the state … would be able to prove that the privilege of self-defense is not available,” Graveley said. The shooting left Blake paralyzed.
After the Lakers defeated Memphis 94-92, Matthews answered questions about the Blake decision.
What were your thoughts on learning that the officer who shot Jacob Blake won’t face charges?
“Nothing that isn’t gonna be censored. It’s disheartening. Truly, it’s disheartening just for all the work that everybody put in, all the … Just the heartache of the families involved, kids involved in the car, the city that rallied around the community. I mean, it’s just about right and wrong. But this isn’t going to be something that … You can’t deter those citizens who were trying to do right, were trying to fight for equality, were trying to fight for the right things. It can’t deter us. We can’t lose our heads. We can’t start rioting. We can’t … I mean, we have to be calculated. We have to continue to keep our foot on the pedal. We have to continue to keep our foot on the gas. We can vote and do all those things with the president, but at the same time we have to make sure that we protect our state, and vote in-state and understand that what is going on is real. This isn’t made up, this isn’t a lie, this isn’t fabricated, this is lives. These are lives right here. It’s upsetting as a Wisconsinite, it’s upsetting as a human being that justice isn’t justice. It’s tough. But it can’t knock us off the path that we’re trying to get to, which is equality and just simply right and wrong. Just humanity. That’s all it is.”
Where is state of activism in the NBA right now?
“Well, we have to continue to and it just can’t be us. Everything that we did in the bubble, as the NBA, not only just the Milwaukee Bucks, but in the state of Wisconsin, but everybody. Globally. Nationally. We have to really rally and that just has to continue. The flame is already lit. It just has to continue to keep burning and keep burning but burning the right way. Not where anything could be sidetracked. Not with damaging anything so that all the media attention can go to, ‘Oh, look what’s happening over here.’ No, look at the facts, look at what’s going on and then let’s address the issue head-on and that’s how we have to attack this. I feel awful for Jacob Blake and his family. But at the same time, we just have to keep our foot on the gas, and that’s why we did what we did, to create awareness and to create a coalition amongst the NBA so that when things like this happen that families and people are supported. So, it’s our job to play basketball, but it’s also our job to make sure that our communities are aware of what’s going on in them.”
What are your expectations moving forward in how you hope the NBA’s social justice coalition responds to this and puts more additional pressure on local leaders to make any other changes?
“Well, I mean, I’m sure, I’m very confident that [Bucks owner] Marc Lasry and the Milwaukee Bucks are doing their diligence right now, especially with it happening in their own backyard. I’m very confident in that. It really is disheartening. But, you know, leaders have to be leaders and everybody has to take ownership for their own community. You know, it just can’t be those that have the platform. It’s got to be everybody. And I think we saw what impact that those with the platform can do and we saw even more impact with those who without a platform can do when everybody does it together, when everybody does it with the mission, when everybody does it the right … with their heart for. It’s all that we can continue to ask for, it’s all we can continue to strive for and fight for and that’s what is going to continue to happen.”
Did the Lakers as a team discuss the Jacob Blake case before the game?
“I think it got sprinkled around. There wasn’t a formal discussion about it. I didn’t find out until I woke up from a nap, truthfully. I didn’t find out until like four-something in the afternoon and I guess that decision had happened in the morning. So, I just think a lot of people were just kind of internalizing it. I know myself, I was internalizing it. You go through all those things. But at the same time, you can’t be discouraged. As visually upset as you guys can see me right now and hearing my voice, we can’t be discouraged. We can’t take our foot off the gas. We can’t think that all our efforts are for nothing, because they aren’t. We’ve got to keep continuing to wake up people. We got to continue to kick doors down the right way and strive and push and demand change and demand equality and demand respect and demand humility. That’s my message to everybody is don’t let this have you hang your head and be like, ‘Oh, it’s broke and it’s never going to get fixed.’ Naw, we got to fix it.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.