On Twitter, NBA superstar LeBron James has 45.9 million followers. On Instagram, he has 63.9 million.
He’s arguably the most famous athlete in America — the face of the NBA, who’s widely seen as bigger than the game of basketball itself. So to say that James has a massive platform to express his views on important news and race relations would be an understatement.
That’s why it’s so frustrating when James spreads misinformation about serious topics.
According to James, black people are “literally hunted EVERYDAY/EVERYTIME we step foot outside the comfort of our homes.”
We’re literally hunted EVERYDAY/EVERYTIME we step foot outside the comfort of our homes! Can’t even go for a damn jog man! Like WTF man are you kidding me?!?!?!?!?!? No man fr ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!!! I’m sorry Ahmaud(Rest In Paradise) and my prayers and blessings sent to the….. pic.twitter.com/r1PNxs8Vgn
— LeBron James (@KingJames) May 6, 2020
James’ implication is that “we” (i.e. black people) are being “hunted” by another group (presumably white people). Except that’s not true — not even close — and it has the potential to needlessly inflame racial tensions.
To understand the sentiments expressed by the Los Angeles Lakers star Wednesday on Twitter and Instagram, it’s first necessary to have a bit of background on the February killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old unarmed, black Georgia man who was shot and killed following a pursuit by two white men.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about Arbery’s killing. We do know that Gregory McMichael, a former investigator in the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office, told police that he saw Arbery running through the neighborhood, believed him to be a suspect in a series of robberies, and — after he and his son Travis armed themselves — got in a truck and started chasing Arbery.
Arbery’s family has said he was simply a jogger, not a criminal, according to The New York Times, and disturbing cellphone video footage released this week appears to show parts of the incident.
As The Associated Press reported, in summing up the footage, “The cellphone video, initially posted by a Brunswick radio station, shows a black man running at a jogging pace on the left side of a road. A truck is parked in the road ahead of him. One man is inside the pickup’s bed, and another is standing beside the open driver’s side door.
“The runner crosses the road to pass the pickup on the passenger side, then crosses back in front of the truck. A gunshot sounds, and the video shows the runner grappling with a man in the street over what appears to be a shotgun or rifle. A second shot can be heard, and the runner can be seen punching the man. A third shot is fired at point-blank range. The runner staggers a few feet and falls face down.”
Once again, the footage is very disturbing — the sort of thing that merits a full investigation.
It’s certainly possible that Ahmaud was murdered and that his killing was racially motivated. If that truly is what happened, the black community has every right to be outraged.
The case is set to go to a grand jury, who will decide whether criminal charges against the McMichaels are appropriate, according to CNN. Due to current health concerns, courts cannot impanel grand juries, though hopefully a decision on charges will be made soon, and arrests — if appropriate — will be made.
But it’s simply wrong to use this tragedy to imply, as James did, that black people are being hunted down “literally” every time they leave their homes, presumably by white people.
According to FBI data, 2,925 “black or African-American” people died in homicides in 2018.
The vast majority of the offenders — 2,600 — were also “black or African-American,” while 234 of these killings were perpetrated by white individuals.
Data from 2017 and 2016 suggest this is the norm rather than the outlier.
In 2017, 2,970 black or African-American people died in homicides, the overwhelming majority of which — 2,627 — were perpetrated by people of their own race. Two hundred sixty-four of these homicides, meanwhile, were carried out by white people.
In 2016, more of the same: 2,870 homicides of black or African-American individuals, 2,570 of whom were killed by a member of their own race and 243 of whom were killed by a white person.
So no, black Americans are not being “hunted” down by white people with any sort of regularity.
To add a bit of context, there were roughly 48 million black Americans living in the country in 2018. That same year, 243 black people (roughly .0005 percent of the entire black population) were killed by white individuals.
Ahmaud’s death is no doubt tragic. But even if he was “hunted” down by his killers, this case is not evidence of something that happens regularly in America.
Yet while the numbers clearly disprove LeBron James’ claims, it’s not clear if his followers care. As of Thursday, his tweet had more than 300,000 likes and 100,000 retweets, while his Instagram post had been liked more than 2 million times.
It was misinformation, plain and simple, coming from one of the most famous celebrities in the country. But hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people bought it anyway.
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