In 2014, a White police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, igniting protests and riots in the city 10 minutes from where Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal grew up. Beal had seen Brown around St. Louis and told ABC7 in a pregame interview that Brown’s killing and the events surrounding his death were “definitely heartbreaking.”
But six years later, as the country again grapples with anti-Black racism and police brutality, Beal’s own inaction at that time still causes him pain.
“I didn’t really do anything about it,” he told reporters on Friday morning. “I was kind of a guy who kind of swept it under the rug and let time roll over, let’s try to figure it out. And I didn’t do anything about it.”
For Beal, those days are over. Fueled by the desire to use his platform as a professional athlete to make a difference, the 26-year-old has become one of D.C.’s most outspoken athlete activists.
On Friday, the anniversary of Juneteenth, Beal and Mystics guard Natasha Cloud organized a player-led march from Capital One Arena to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the Tidal Basin, about two miles away.
The march, which Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen suggested to Cloud, was the first of many events the players say they have planned to address systemic racism and police brutality.
“It’s been difficult to grasp, but at the same time, you can’t be silent about it, you can’t sit on your hands,” Beal said. “When you have a platform, you have an opportunity. You gotta take advantage of it and swing that bat, no matter what happens, no matter what people’s opinions are. You gotta stand for what’s right.”
Beal also shared his own interactions with law enforcement, telling reporters that he’s been racially profiled by police officers while walking down the street and that cops have pulled him over and searched him and his friends “because we were Black riding in a White neighborhood.”
About two years ago, he got pulled over on the Beltway.
“The officer asked me to step out of the vehicle,” Beal explained. “I’m literally on the side of the highway, my wife, me, and one of my friends … and he comes up to me, and says, ‘What if I fuck up your Monday and put you on a headline and arrest you right now?’ I didn’t do anything but because I was an athlete, a Black athlete driving a nice vehicle, that’s why he came over. And how am I supposed to respond to that? I’d just be waking up on Monday morning with an ESPN headline: ‘Bradley Beal arrested because of interaction with police.’ It happens … it’s everywhere. We just have to stop being ignorant to that fact that it exists.”
About a hundred people attended the march, including players and staff from the Wizards and Mystics, their family members, Monumental Sports and Entertainment employees, and the general public.
Beal, Cloud, Hines-Allen, John Wall, and Beal’s wife, Kamiah Adams-Beal, took turns shouting into the megaphone, chanting popular protest refrains.
No justice! No peace!
No racist police!
This is what democracy looks like!
Hands up! Don’t shoot!
“This is a family,” Cloud said. “Yeah we’re separated, we’re men and we’re women, we play at different points and different times, but we’re all fighting the same fights, we all care about the same things, and we find commonality and respect in each other. I don’t know how many cities have this type of relationship between their two teams, so it’s a really special bond between our teams, so it only makes it right that we do it together.”
The teams reiterated to the crowd that this was just one of their actions to address systemic racism. Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Wizards and Mystics, recently announced programs dedicated toward police reform and voting rights.
“How does the Black community grow when lives are taken from them unjustly without any consequences? There’s no more sweeping these harsh realities under the rug, putting on Band-Aids over the scars,” Beal said. “It’s time we held everyone accountable. We got to call out the lawmakers, the law [enforcement] officers, the state and city reps, DAs, judges, politicians, police unions. Everybody that deems themselves the enforcer of the law has to be held accountable. Justice is demanded. Sustainable change is necessary.”
As the crowd arrived at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, players began to read the names of Black men and women who been have killed in recent years. It lasted nearly two and half minutes.
“I want y’all to keep in mind that this is a small list of the names,” Cloud said.