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'Time for us to talk': Masai Ujiri stresses need for conversation amid protests
TORONTO -- Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri is urging everyone, from world leaders down, to have strong conversations about race as a way forward from racial tensions across Canada and the United States.
In an interview with CTV National News Chief News Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme on Monday, Ujiri stressed the need for conversation as protests escalate across the United States in response to the killing of George Floyd, who died at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, Minn.
“It’s time for us to talk,” Ujiri said. “It’s time for us to say what’s on our minds, and I don’t know why it has gotten to this and all of us are to blame that we’ve let it come to this.”
Protesters have been taking to the streets around the world in the wake of Floyd’s death, in which a police officer pressed against his neck for more than eight minutes, while three other officers stood by. The incident was caught on camera.
“When I saw that video, Lisa, I don’t know how those policemen can actually watch,” Ujiri said. “That’s broad daylight murder. That’s murder and those three guys there have to be held accountable for that too.”
The three officers were fired, while Derek Chauvin, the officer holding his knee against Floyd’s neck, has been charged with third-degree murder. On Monday, a medical examiner classified Floyd’s death as a homicide, adding that his heart stopped as police compressed his neck.
Ujiri said the Floyd’s death has become “polarized” because of “bad leadership,” but when asked about U.S. President Donald Trump’s response to the crisis, he turned his attention to other leaders.
“I’m more focused on other leaders talking, other leaders standing up, because we’ve heard the same thing over and over again,” he said. “More people have to come out and talk about what he’s doing. People have to come out and do it. We have to do it. If not, where is it going to go?”
“All leaders have to speak, especially white leaders. That’s the honest truth because we’re all in positions where we can influence, where we change things, where we can come out and talk about it without being scared.”
UJIRI’S EXPERIENCE WITH POLICE
Ujiri said he is now rethinking his own experiences with police officers.
Last June, Ujiri was involved in an altercation with an officer while he was trying to get on the court following Toronto’s Game 6 victory in the NBA Finals. Ujiri said the officer -- identified as a 20-year veteran of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office -- stopped him “aggressively” from joining the team on the court following the team’s championship win.
Ujiri said at the time, he didn’t think the altercation had anything to do with race, but he’s since had a chance to think about what transpired and he does think there may have been some racism involved.
“I can’t talk about it much, but after everything that’s gone on, yes, I do ask that question that if it was somebody white would he have been stopped,” he said.
Still, Ujiri stresses that his incident pales in comparison to what Floyd’s family is going through.
“We shouldn’t even talking about this. It doesn’t even compare to what happened to these people,” he said.
“I lost a moment, it’s gone. We’ll win another championship and I’ll find that moment. That guy is gone, (his) family lost somebody. They lost somebody. That’s not right.”