Once easy to laugh with, Charles Barkley has become a head-shaking laughingstock in the Black community and among right-thinking people. Some had already been there. Many more are there now.
His political position on two noted killings of unarmed Black youths has rendered him the butt of jokes, the impetus of disappointment and the fuel of anger. He supported George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict in stalking and killing teenager Trayvon Martin and recently said he supported the Ferguson, Mo. decision to not have Darren Brown indicted for shooting and killing teenager Michael Brown in broad daylight.
Even those who had already considered him thisclose to a buffoon were infuriated by the callous approach Barkley assumed in believing the “evidence,” taking the word of defense witnesses and, particularly in the case of Brown, ignoring the unprecedented flaws in the Ferguson grand jury execution and prosecution’s lack of interest in trying Wilson.
And to call the looters in Ferguson “scumbags” shows he has no connection to the anger and confusion and pain they feel. No one agrees with the looting. But to be totally unsympathetic to the hopelessness and fear of the people—however misguided the reaction—is shallow.
In the Black community, his words on the cases amount to treason. Barkley is on the growing traitor list with Dr. Ben Carson, actress Stacey Dash and Florida politician Allen West, among others.
Barkley would be wise to keep his pie hole shut on the latest outrage: the grand jury’s decision yesterday to not indict the officer who killed Eric Garner in Staten Island in a choke hold as he implored the cop and other officers, “I can’t breathe.” All this while being filmed. Even if Barkley is incensed about this travesty of injustice, this absolute disregard for Black life, it would come off as placating now that he’s shown his apparent ignorance in matters of whites disregarding Black lives.
Etan Thomas, a former NBA player, took him to task in an open letter. He ended his poignant missive with this piercing comment to Barkley: “Who’s afraid of a large black man? Tragically, it now seems like the answer might be you.”
Civil rights icon John Carlos told the New York Daily News about Barkley: “If you don’t have anything good to say, you should keep your mouth shut. I don’t know where Mr. Barkley gets his reports. He’s a basketball commentator. It’s not like he’s in the legal field. He shouldn’t be saying derogatory things.
“This is an ongoing thing, not just Mr. Brown, a lot of individuals of color being assassinated. Everybody just assumes they did something wrong. Even if they did, it’s not justifiable to kill them.”
Even Barkley’s friend and TNT Inside The NBA colleague Kenny Smith tactfully reamed his buddy in another open letter. Some of it read: “The masses involved in ‘the struggle’ will react in several ways. They can overcome it, challenge it, live in it, or fall victim to it. . . For those of us who are decades removed from ‘the struggle’ because of our life through sports or business, we now have to acknowledge that . . . exists. If not, then we are the ignorant ones.”
Five St. Louis Rams entered their game on Sunday with their hands up in a “Don’t shoot” posture to show support for the Brown family, disdain for the grand jury’s decision and disappointment that police can shoot an unarmed teen and not even go to trial for it.
Carlos, who along with Tommie Smith, made the black glove-fisted protest to discrimination in America at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, watched it from home in California and was delighted. “I think it’s changing right before our eyes,” he told the Daily News. “These men are giving voice to the voiceless. They’re doing the right thing and taking a stance.”
Barkley needs to take a seat. In the dark. With duct tape on his mouth. Maybe that way he can salvage his image. But it’s likely too late. By the minute his reputation as a fun-loving guy with innocent humor diminishes. Rather, he’s likely to be forever known as a blowhard who failed the Black community. He would have better served it by saying nothing.