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When it comes to the cases of Michigan basketball coach Juwan Howard’s slap and the New Jersey mall fight, both were handled unfairly.
Last week, a cell phone video recording of a fight in a New Jersey mall went viral and incited national outrage for how the situation was handled. The altercation was between two teen boys–one Hispanic and the other Black. It reportedly started when Z’Kye Husain (the Black teen) confronted the other teen for bullying a seventh grader. Things escalated when the Hispanic teen pointed his finger in the Black teen’s face and ultimately became physical.
Eventually the police were called and, to no surprise, the Black teen was treated entirely differently.
New Jersey mall fight
While breaking up the fight, the Hispanic teen was seated on a nearby couch by a female officer on the scene. The Black teen was wrestled to the floor by a White male officer who placed his knee on Kye’s lower back and handcuffed him.
The female officer left the Hispanic teen on the couch to assist the other officer by placing her knee on his upper back and close to his neck–-a scene too close to what we saw in the George Floyd murder.
As it stands, neither officer has faced disciplinary action. All we’re left with are the New Jersey’s governor’s verbalized concerns, an internal review by the police department and another Black boy who’s been traumatized and made more aware of how “dangerous” his skin is.
In my mind, this situation is almost parallel to what I’m calling “The Slap Heard ‘Round the Big Ten”.
Last weekend, University of Michigan’s men’s basketball coach and former NBA player Juwan Howard slapped Wisconsin Badgers’ assistant coach, Joe Krabbenhoft.
That exchange stemmed from frustration over a controversial timeout that was called during the game which, in Coach Howard’s eyes, left the Wolverines at an unfair disadvantage. The game ultimately ended with a Wolverine upset.
Tensions were still high during the postgame handshake when Greg Gard–head coach of the Badgers–grabbed Juwan Howard’s arm supposedly to explain why he called the timeout. Howard responded with, “Don’t (expletive) touch me”.
An argument ensued, and efforts were made to separate the two. Some media outlets are reporting that Krabbenhoft was aggressive towards Michigan players which may have prompted Juwan to slap him in an attempt to protect himself.
Consequently, Juwan Howard has apologized, was suspended for the rest of the regular season and has to pay a $40,000 fine. Greg Gard, on the other hand, was issued a $10,000 fine for violating the conference’s sportsmanship policy but was not suspended.
I see these two examples as similar. Both Z’Kye and Howard were either seen and/or treated as aggressors regardless of facts. That fact is clearly visible in the New Jersey mall fight but not so much in Howard’s case. I’ll explain.
Juwan Howard is being villainized by media that likes to sensationalize stories and headlines to make them more enticing for readers.
If you Google Juwan Howard right now, what mostly comes up is what he did, but not why he did it. For the average person that tends to take a headline and run with it, Howard is portrayed as aggressive and deserves to be fined and suspended.
Even if someone were to do their due diligence and skim the text, some pieces are still riddled with bias. Like this Washington Post piece that mentions Howard’s size, past incidents that would insinuate a propensity for violence and is forgiving of whatever Krabbenhoft did to set him off in the first place.
This takes us to a conversation about imbalance and injustice in accountability.
Accountability should be the same regardless of skin color
There’s always this gray area when it comes to accountability in instigating conflict and violating personal space that rarely gets addressed. As we see it here, we also saw it in the case of George Zimmerman, who started the conflict that ultimately led to Trayvon Martin’s murder.
Juwan Howard issued an apology and faced harsher consequences for his behavior. Minimally, you would think Greg Gard would at least do the same for violating Howard’s personal space, but he hasn’t.
Joseph, the other teen involved in the mall fight, condemns the officers’ treatment of Z’Kye but he wasn’t detained or arrested for his role. And demands for an apology from the New Jersey police department have gone unanswered.
So this isn’t necessarily a discussion about whose actions were right or wrong. But, it is another calling out of how double-standards and lack of accountability continue to perpetuate bias and injustice. If justice is to rule and heal the land, it should be led with facts and impartiality in accountability for all parties involved. Not by skin color and stereotypes.