When Etan Thomas played for the Washington Wizards in 2001, he and teammate Jahadi White were stopped in a car Thomas was driving by police in northern Virginia, just outside of D.C.
His offense? Driving two miles over the speed limit. Two.
“We were looking at each other like, ‘Is this guy serious?’” he said.
The white officer was quite serious.
Thomas recalled him saying, “Yeah, two miles. You were speeding. In fact, get out of the car and let me look into it. Do you have any weed on you? Anything in the ashtray?’
“We’re like, ‘No. All of this over two miles over the speed limit? Are we being ‘punked’? Is Ashton Kutcher going to come running out?’ It was that crazy. I don’t even like driving through Virginia, I have been stopped so much.”
Scenarios like that inspired Thomas two weeks ago to craft an open letter to NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, who had said he agreed with the Ferguson, Mo. grand jury to not indict officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing unarmed teen Michael Brown on August 9.
Thomas has been harassed by police, profiled, followed. . . the entire gamut of racial stereotyping that comes with being Black. So when Barkley gave his opinion, Thomas said he was moved to create a response because “the overall atmosphere that is created by cops when they stop you is something most of America just doesn’t understand.”
In an interview with Atlanta Blackstar, Thomas said his life has not changed much since his eloquent letter to Barkley went viral on social media. He has thousands more friend requests on Facebook and thousands more followers on Twitter. But his day-to-day life persists: Addressing the racial divide in America and how Blacks have been violated in all walks of life.
Without consciously doing so, Thomas, 36, took on another media personality in Fox’s Bill O’Reilly.
When asked about professional athletes speaking out against police violence, Thomas said he was pleased to see the involvement, but “more surprised by the criticism of the athletes’ protests. I’m watching Bill O’Reilly, and he’s criticizing the St. Louis Rams players because they have a different opinion from his. He basically was saying, ‘Don’t pay attention to them. They’re just dumb athletes.’
“He and others criticized Kobe Bryant for his comments. And they pointed out how much money he makes and where he grew up, and I’m saying, ‘You are missing the whole point. It doesn’t matter how much money you make or where you grew up.’ When we are out in the street, driving, the police sees you as a Black man, they don’t know you’re an NBA player or NFL player or a lawyer or banker or doctor or whatever your profession is.
“They see a Black man in a nice car in a nice neighborhood and they profile you and stop you. And that’s the disconnect that mainstream America can’t understand: Once an athlete steps off the field or the court, they are just a Black man like any other Black man who gets stopped by the police.
“Bill O’Reilly doesn’t understand that connection. He was saying, ‘Well, when I get stopped by the police, I just obey their commands and everything is all right.’ I’m like, ‘Wow. You really have no idea. Your interaction with the police is completely different than our interaction.’ Usually, people who look like Bill O’Reilly have to give them a reason to pull out their billy club or their gun. Black men like me have to give them a reason not to pull out their billy club or gun. And that’s what mainstream America doesn’t understand. Apparently Bill O’Reilly doesn’t understand. It doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete or a teacher or what your occupation is or college credential is, because they only see one thing: our skin color.
“Bill O’Reilly doesn’t experience what we experience.”
Thomas said he was “amazed” by the barrage of #CrimingWhileWhite messages that stormed social media last week. “We don’t have stories like that,” he said. “Stories like, ‘Yeah, I was drunk in college and I took a swing at the cop and said, ‘You dirty pig.’ And the police took me back to my dorm room and told me to be safe and stay out of trouble. I’m like, that’s not the way that would have played out with a brother.
“Our stories are like, we were walking, minding our business in a dark stairwell in Brooklyn and a rookie cop sees us and shoots us. And instead of calling the paramedics, they let us bleed out while they call their union reps. Those are our stories.”
Thomas is not a fly-by-night revolutionary. He grew up in Oklahoma with a mother as a school teacher. She introduced him to the stories of athletes who were also civil rights activists, like Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, John Carlos and Tommie Smith.
“It was always just a part of who I was,” he said.
The author of three books, including last year’s “Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge,” Thomas retired from the NBA after nine seasons in 2011 and has spent his time since doing inspirational speaking, organizing panel discussions on fatherhood. . . anything that works toward building better race relations and aiding young Black boys.
“I have such a passion for people, especially our young men because they are inspired by us,” he said. “They can be so positively influenced by people they recognize. I can’t speak for (other pro athletes). I just know I remember (ex-NBA stars) Wayman Tisdale came to my high school and John Starks to our middle school and Lee Mayberry. We listened to every single word they said. One of my teachers said, “Why don’t you listen to us like that?” I said, “Because you’re not Wayman Tisdale.’ Simple as that.
“As I got older, I saw the power in that. My mom had me come back when I was in college (Syracuse) to speak to students. I saw the reaction from it, how they are affected by it. I could see it in their eyes that they were inspired. When you hear, ‘Hey man, you helped change my life,’ that’s phenomenal. When you experience that, it makes you want to do more, to help more. When you’re a pro athlete, your voice is louder. And you use that power for good.”
Thomas said his message to youths has not changed over the years, but it gets more attention now, in the aftermath of the rash of police shootings of unarmed Black males.
“My message is,” he said, “that it’s not just cops gunning for you. It’s society as a whole. You have to know there are certain traps that you have to maneuver around. That’s how it is. CrimingWhileWhite—you can’t do what they do. You’re not going to get caught in a meth lab and be told to go to rehab and it’s all good. That’s not happening for us. There are going to be people who want nothing but for you to fail. They can come in the form of a police officer or a coach or a teacher or a so-called friend. So you have to know what you’re about.”
Thomas attended the Justice For All march against police officers slayings in D.C. on Saturday and left somewhat hopeful about the future.
“This has awakened people to understand how far we have to go. The words ‘post-racial’ shouldn’t come out of anybody’s mouth,” he said. “A lot of times America likes to try to fool the people that everything is OK, when it’s not. There were a good amount of white people at the march, and they were shocked by how bad it is—and they were outraged by it. . . People are uprising and telling you that they are not happy. People have to pay attention to the protests. I just hope it keeps up and we all use our voices, use our power for good.”
11 thoughts on “Etan Thomas Took Down Charles Barkley, Now Takes on Bill O’Reilly on Race in America”
@Etan I too was pulled over for driving 58 on the interstate. The speed limit was 55. The white officer gave me quite a stern talking to as he checked my 1 year old truck for the smell of drugs. The difference is that I am white, and never smoked cigarettes, let alone done illegal drugs. My guess is that they were just looking for revenue. I believe I was pulled over because my hair was longer than the average adult.
I don't have a problem with the police profiling. If a group of 19 year old white kids commit more crimes per capita than 80 year old black or hispanic grandma's, I would rather the police not waste as much time patting down the old ladies. If your driving a 1972 Monty Carlo with primer and rust everywhere, 5 teenagers in the car at 1 in the morning, you are more likely to have illegal drugs or stolen merchandise in the car, than a 2013 mini-van with a mom, dad (in a suit) and 3 grade schoolers at 9:45 on a Sunday morning.
Get a life, you are crying because you were born black and looked upon as a possible criminal. I was born white, 5'-6". I have been looked down upon my whole life because I am short by the likes of people like you ( 6'10 basketball stars). I cant help my height, you cant help your color. Just live with the reality that the police are going with the odds, and that profiling while it may be illegal, while it may be unfair, is a fact of life. Short people, tattooed, perceived ugly people, young people, are overlooked for jobs, just like minorities.
It is a fact of life whether people will admit it or not. I admit the reality that all people profile one way or another. I am not trying to make this personal, but I notice that you did not marry a short, ugly, white girl. You probably never gave the short, ugly, white girl a second thought. She could have been a very good wife. That is not a slam, I am just saying that everyone profiles.
It is a shame that anyone ever gets hurt by the police. But they have a tough job and put their lives on the line every day. As a father with two deceased children, I want to tell you that they don't come back. It is important that the police do everything in their power to come back home to their families. Had Michael Brown not broken any laws, he would be alive today. I was not on the jury, I did not, nor did you hear all of the testimony that was given. So we will have to trust the system to do what is right.
Etan Thomas you shouldn't even waste your breath on OReilley. I think alot of his comments are to keep people talking about him.
You weren't killed, though! White people always try and control the conversation. White people can't be reformed. Your so called system is on the verge of collapse and you want to tell us to trust the system. Buffon! We gonna shut this place down! Let these brainwashed people alone!
So, all these police unions are behind these killings. Fraternal Order of Police. That's where we need be in front of, their union halls. March right in and take over.
bring it jr bring it. Be the best thing that could happen for America
David, are you serious?? Stopping you for revenue and racial profile stops are totally different!! Trust in the system, why??? Calling this kid a criminal… for petty larceny, if that truly is what occurred. Anyway, even stealing a couple of cigars or selling cigarettes does not justify taking someone's life. That is ridiculous! Trust in a system which give jurors a repealed law which in no way shape of form would allow a police officer to be found guilty of any act?? I'll assume you haven't checked the facts of the trial to have made such a statement. Furthermore, being shot and being looked down upon by someone taller noway resembles being looked down upon by someone based on your race. What would you prefer, a taller person to look over your head when speaking to you??? You accept the fact that you're short, we accept the fact that we are black but we're not going to accept the fact that we are still treated unequally along racial lines. A white gunman goes into a move theatre and shoots it up, gets treated with kid gloves and is incarcerated, lives to see another day a probably freedom in the near future. Black kid unarmed gets gunned down in the street by police and the officer is not guilty of anything… You sir, are full of it!!
No you trust the system and you just deal with it. The problem is blacks are stopped at More than ten times the rate of white. Arrested at More than ten times the rate of whites. You have no idea how blacks are treated and threatened with jail if we even ask questions. Cars searched, guns pulled on us for traffic stops? You can take you be comment and go to he'll.
I read this post and it always seems to get to I was picked on because I am black. Or you were not picked on because you are white. What sucks is that those comments are true. The only thing that matters is that people have died needlessly. So here is the question of the century. How do we fix it?
Facts as I believe them. This is my opinion and only an opinion.
1. Our school system is broken.
2. Our family is broken.
3. Our government is broken.
4. Our society is broken.
How do we fix these things? Where do we start?
When I have a few dollars in my pocket, my family has food in their stomachs, I am feeling pretty good. Now I get pulled over for not coming to a complete stop at an intersection. The officer that pulled me over approaches my truck with his hand on his weapon. It is a sunny day, windows down and this guy comes up to me in an aggressive manner. He gets to my window and asks for insurance, license and registration. I hand him what he ask for and my concealed carry permit. I want him to know that I have a gun in my truck. I do not want him to get startled or surprised. He takes this information and tells me to keep my hands out the window where he can see them. He has an attitude. I get ticketed and have to spend my hard earned money on a fine. How do I feel? I do not feel good about it but I broke the law. So I have no one to be upset with but myself. But I feel that I was disrespected by this cop. He is a black cop and I am a white male. Both are true. I do not like the way he talked to me. There is nothing I can say that will make my situation better, only worse. So I shut my mouth, take the ticket and leave.
The best thing I did here was shut my mouth. People both black and white need to learn when to just shut up. He was right to ticket me. He was wrong to disrespect me.
Not being black I do not experience what black people do. I do know this; they are people who deserve to be treated just like I am treated. They are my brothers and sisters. As with all brothers and sisters we do not always agree, we sometimes fight, but I do not want them mistreated, abused or hurt.
What has brought us to this separation in society, or better yet why have we not fixed this problem.
Who benefits from black and white bickering? Who benefits from people being poor? Who benefits from people being dependent on other people for food and housing? Do not think that only black people are poor. There is no race discrimination when it comes to who is poor.
Poor is a race all into its own. Why? We that are lucky enough to have a job and able earn a living are led to believe that people that are on some kind of government assistance are lazy good for nothings. How many times must you be told that you are nothing before you start to believe it? Everyone is looking for something to believe in. Something to cling to that makes them feel like they are something.
If we do not come together as a people then things will just continue to get worse.
We need to do this for ourselves. We need to not accept handouts but instead accept a helping hand. We will never defeat racism until we fix our government, school system our families.
We are being and have been manipulated forever. Someone profits from all of this.
And we know who that is.
We start by earning each other’s respect, by treating each other like we want to be treated.
Greet a stranger today with a smile and a kind word.
We the people of the United States of America need to join together as one people.
Dearest black people, "YOU CANNOT EXPLAIN RACISM". (THE END).
Mike Prestigiacomo – I feel everything you are saying, but we are treated in a biased manner – the police still go off the fact that we are looked upon as 3/5ths a human and bound by the words in the constitution that we hold these truths to be self evident. that makes the belief bond! remember a 12 year old child was shot and killed with a plastic gun. The officers rolled up and shot him from their car seat, they did not pull over 20 feet away and use their car as a buffer to negotiate with the child to see if the gun was real or what his intentions where – they lied about it not knowing they where on tape. They did not even request an immediate ambulance, they let the child bleed out! What about the Walmart incident where a young black man was holding a BB gun that was property of Walmart gets shot and killed in the Walmart, while a week ago 2 white males grab 2 BB guns and starting shooting people with them in the store and creating chaos in the store, but yet they get arrested! we can go on and on – its not equal, I am not against humans just racist ignorant people – know your rights and these Laws so you can navigate the land properly – still does not make up for the blatant racism and bad apples that this organization keeps hiring – oh yeah they are way worse than street gangs – lastly, a lot of white people speak on being pulled over, what about when you are walking home and minding your own business? Or at the grocery store with your family, we feel it everyday – when we are driving and a cop just gets behind you or on the side of your car – the stress that creates is unimaginable.. there is more but I do not wish to waste anyone's time.
Please read The Legend of the unarmed White man. ..Www.theconservativesage.blogspot.com