WNBA’s Brianna Turner on George Floyd’s death — I don’t want my family to be the next hashtag

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I remember Thanksgiving when I was in fifth grade and fully realized my parents were literally always on call. About an hour before we were to eat, my mom got the call to come into work. I was like, “Right now? On Thanksgiving?” She said, “Brianna, I’m a police officer, and I’m needed. I can’t just take the day off.”

It’s important for me to share my background. I’ve lived with police officers my entire life. My father, Howard, worked 28 years for the Houston Police Department and is now a campus sergeant for a community college here in Houston. My mother, Kellye, is a captain in the criminal investigation division for the Texas Department of Public Safety and has been a police officer for 26 years.

Of course, I’d always known my parents were in law enforcement, but it was over time, as I grew up, that I really knew what that meant: My mom and dad are sworn to protect and serve at all costs.

For the past week, it has been hard for me to think of anything but George Floyd, the protests and the national conversation that many of us are having, but some are avoiding.

There is a coronavirus pandemic. But there is also the pandemic of police brutality. I know some people might get overwhelmed by the reaction that Floyd’s death has caused, because it’s everywhere. But it should be everywhere.

How can you be a citizen of this country and not want to speak out? How can you witness what we’ve seen in the past week and not have anything to say? I think maybe people are afraid, and they don’t want to say the “wrong thing.” But if you’re supporting humanity and equality, I don’t get how you could say the wrong thing.

I’m not a police officer. I played college basketball at Notre Dame and am entering my second WNBA season with the Phoenix Mercury. So, I can’t speak for my parents; but I can speak to what it’s like to live with them and see what they go through, and hear their stories. I think the world of my parents. We talk constantly about what’s going on.

Some people will share everything on social media. I don’t. I am more of a reserved person. But I do share things that are really important to me. The things I’ve said about this on social media, they’re what I feel. I wasn’t looking for people to give me a like or a retweet. I wasn’t thinking about what the reception was going to be. I wasn’t expecting to get a call to be on SportsCenter. I’m just talking freely, because I’m a citizen. I see what’s happening, and I can’t just sit by and not say anything.

I’ll acknowledge there is some confusing space for me, things I’m still trying to navigate. I look at some of my friends’ stories and protests, and the NWA song “F— tha Police” is just blasting in the background. And I’m like, “My parents are police. I can’t support blasting a song like that.”

But we’re watching protestors clashing with national guard and police officers, and it’s sad to see: These people are protesting police brutality, yet in many cases, they’re still being met with police brutality.

People should not be afraid to interact with police officers. They should not fear for their lives when they get pulled over. That is a big issue in this country. And it has to be addressed internally in every police department in the country.

“I could see someone who looks like George Floyd being my dad, or my uncle or my cousin. … Just a constant, unsettling fear that a member of your own family could be the next hashtag on black lives lost due to police brutality.”

Brianna Turner

People have been texting me, “You’re so courageous for speaking out.” I don’t feel courageous. It’s not courageous to care about humanity. I think it’s a common sense thing. Some people have said, “Way to use your platform.” I have like 6,000 Twitter followers; compared to a lot of athletes, that’s nothing. But it goes to show no matter how big or small your platform is, you have a message to share.

I’ve seen a lot of other WNBA players speak out. I read Natasha Cloud’s piece in The Players’ Tribune. I’ve had people from the Mercury organization reach out to me personally and lend me their support. It feels good to me that I’m being seen and heard by them.

And maybe there are ways the WNBA could work more closely with law enforcement. I’m not sure what that would look like, but it could be a positive thing. If people come to games and see their favorite players having positive interaction with law enforcement, it could be a way to bridge the gap between police and the community. I believe sports can help with that.

I think about what my father once told me when I asked why he wanted to be a police officer. He said he saw a lot of things in his community while growing up that bothered him. He didn’t like the way police were treating his neighbors. His older brother was a police officer, too, so he sort of followed his footsteps. My dad decided to be the change that he wanted to see.

But here’s the thing: I hear the description of George Floyd: A 6-foot-6 black man. That’s my father, too. I think about how many instances when my dad has been out doing something — at a gas station, or just getting something to eat — and someone has been startled or nervous just because of his presence. It’s very possible that has happened his whole life. There are people who would see my dad and think he is a “threat” to them, and that’s an extremely scary thing to me.

I could see someone who looks like George Floyd being my dad, or my uncle or my cousin. This is affecting so many black families. It’s relatable. Just a constant, unsettling fear that a member of your own family could be the next hashtag on black lives lost due to police brutality.

I work out every day, and sometimes it’s really hard to concentrate, because my mind is so consumed with everything that’s going on. It’s hard to focus at times. I need to be ready when the WNBA calls and our season starts, and I will be. But I also can’t turn this off.

I don’t want to turn it off. None of us should. We’re never going to be done talking about it until we see real change.



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