On Monday night, a handful of players from the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx donned black t-shirts with a series of words written in white across the front. They read:
"Change Starts With Us - Justice and Accountability"
There were words on the back, too: the names of Alton Sterling and Philando Castle, two black men recently slain by white police officers, as well as the shield of the Dallas police department, which lost five of its officers in a shooting during a recent protest of those aforementioned killings.
Below that, "Black Lives Matter."
Those three words were polarizing enough for four Minneapolis police offers to abandon their posts as security guards at that same Lynx game, a refusal to do their job because of the message on the shirts.
The cops' walkout sends a message grounded in falsehood, and it's central issue in this country's continual battle with racial injustice. It assumes that because someone says "black lives matter" that they do no believe "all lives matter," a useful deflection technique for those who choose not to subscribe to the well-researched conclusion that black people are disproportionately killed by police. The cousin of that sentiment, "but what about black on black crime?" is much of the same, as if focusing on one issue means others simply disappear into a puff of smoke.
So when Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell posted an illustration depicting a hooded figure stabbing a white police officer in the throat to his Instagram account on Monday, something I'm not going to repost here, the blowback was swift. Crowell, perhaps realizing the gravity of what he'd just done, immediately took the horrifying image down, but nothing dies on the Internet. The screenshot made its rounds, leading to an apology from Crowell and a statement from the Browns damning his actions.
A suspension may follow, and it is probably deserved. The image was horrible and offensive, graphic and violent, and represents the very mindset that led to the death of those five police officers in Dallas. For a lot of fans, though, an apology from Crowell wasn't enough. It was a chance to unleash hell. Search Crowell's name on Twitter, and this is what you'll unearth.
There's hundreds more responses like these, draped in racism like a Donald Trump cabinet meeting. Scroll long enough and it's not hard to feel the same anger Crowell feels deep in his gut. Misguided and frightening as the way he chose to channel that anger was, the root of it is buried in real police offers shooting and killing real defenseless black men, over and over and over again.
It's funny where some of us choose to place our anger. Greg Hardy dragged a woman by her hair across the floor, yet there he was, clad in the blue and white colors of the Dallas Cowboys last season, America's Team. Johnny Manziel is accused of hitting and stalking his ex-girlfriend, but he lasted two full years with the Cleveland Browns. Sure, there were voices around each team yelling out to cut said players, but they weren't nearly as loud as the deafening growls that currently surround Crowell.
What Crowell did was terrible, an emotional response to the injustice that has been happening to people of his skin color for as long as time itself. And yet, in the outrage that follows, it again chooses to overlook the systemic issues that led to Crowell's mistake. Crowell's image is a mirror, and the faces looking back at it are as ugly as the picture itself.