Barclays Center became a hotspot of civil unrest last night, both on the court and outside the arena. While the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took in a Nets-Cavaliers game, more than 400 protesters staged a die-in, urging New Yorkers to join them in #RoyalShutdown to draw attention back to their cause. Meanwhile, LeBron James and several other players donned "I Can't Breathe" shirts during the pre-game warm-up, in reference to the last words of Eric Garner, who died after being put in a chokehold by an NYPD officer. While the royals did not formally acknowledge the protests, James did make a brief statement following the game.
When asked about the shirt, James replied, "It was a message to the family that I'm sorry for their loss. Sorry to his wife. I think everybody else gets caught up in everything else besides who's really feeling it, and that's the family. That's what it's about."
Demonstrators have been repeatedly successful in keeping media attention on police brutality by gathering at high-profile events. Mayor de Blasio canceled his appearance at the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting as thousands of protestors filled the streets of midtown Manhattan. Die-ins were staged at malls and big-box stores across the country in an attempt to disrupt Black Friday shopping. LeBron James is one of several athletes who've successfully used sporting events to direct attention to the issue. For example, last week, St. Louis Rams players walked onto the field with their hands up, in a show of anger over the death of Michael Brown.
These tactics have been largely successful in keeping Michael Brown and Eric Garner in the news and in our public consciousness. These men's names became enmeshed in the conversation around Art Basel and NBC's Peter Pan Live, if only by observers pointing out the strange confluence of media coverage. "Peter Pan Live is on tonight. #BlackLivesMatter," one woman said in a tweet that that perfectly captured the two trending topics dominating the platform all night. The #BlackLivesMatter outcry is notable for its resiliency and ability to permeate so many aspects of our lives, from football to late night comedy to our Facebook feeds.
Last night's Nets game produced a similar mix of hype and anger in this morning's news: LeBron took a stand for Eric Garner, protestors rallied, and the royal couple met Beyoncé and Jay-Z. All of these events were inevitable headlines — we covered the royals-meet-royals introduction, too. But, as long as the protesters succeed in getting their story in the news, we'll continue to have some of the bigger conversations about race and power in America today. And, it's clear those are conversations we need.