Black Canadian track and field Olympian Perdita Felicien felt anger and outrage when she saw the recently released body-cam footage from last year’s NBA Championship game — at which Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri is seen being pushed twice by Alameda County sheriff’s deputy, Alan Strickland.
But she certainly wasn’t surprised.
“It happens every day, it happens often with Black people,” said Felicien.
“You’re innocent, you’re minding your own damn business and someone comes along, does something to you and then turns around and criminalizes you.”
Ujiri recently filed a countersuit against Strickland seeking nominal and punitive damages and reimbursement for legal expenses, a response to the sheriff’s deputy’s lawsuit claiming Ujiri was the instigator and suing him for injuries.
In a statement, Ujiri acknowledges that the reason he is able to find some form of justice after the incident is because of the resources available to him as the president of an NBA team — but that those resources aren’t available to all Black people.
“It’s a prime example of that it doesn’t matter how much power you have or privileged you are, there are still people who will see you as Black and less than and not deserving of respect,” added Felicien.
Selwyn Pieters, a Black lawyer who often represents people of colour within marginalized communities, said watching the video of Masai getting pushed reminded him of the anti-Black racism he experiences in his line of work.
One example involves someone trying to refrain him from entering a lawyer’s lounge at a local courthouse.
“The librarian made the assumption based on my race and my dreadlocks that I didn’t belong there, that I couldn’t be a lawyer — and she basically told me this is a place reserved for lawyers and tried to kick me out of the lounge,” said Pieters.
He added that there are parallels between what Ujiri and other Black people face in their respective professional positions.
“It’s all about working while Black,” said Pieters. “(Ujiri) was working in his professional capacity and I was working at my capacity as a lawyer, and it’s all anti-Black racism in its various manifestations.”
Meanwhile, trial lawyer Saron Gebresellassi believes that Strickland’s case doesn’t hold much water in the court of law now that the body-cam footage has been released.
“We saw the video,” said Gebresellassi. “In the altercation, It clearly demonstrates who is the aggressor in that interaction — and in my opinion, what I saw was an assault… and so I have no doubt Masai Ujiri will be victorious in this legal battle.”
Felicien believes the sports world needs a major shift in allowing Black athletes and Black people within other roles of a team to fight for their rights rather than suppress them.
“Athletes are athletes and they’re powerful and privileged, but they’re still Black people and they go through the world as Black people and their plights, their issues, their concerns don’t disappear just because they can put a ball in a hoop better than anyone else.
“We have to stop having this concept that if you’re an athlete, you can’t be an activist —if you’re an athlete, you also can’t be too Black at the same time.”
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