A Los Angeles Police Department officer, who wrote an open letter to LeBron James after the Laker star faced criticism for a now deleted tweet about a fatal police shooting in Ohio, told KTLA that he is willing to have an honest conversation to help mend divisions between law enforcement and communities of color.
James came under fire for the social media post showing the officer believed to have fatally shot 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant last week with the words “YOU’RE NEXT #ACCOUNTABILITY,” apparently in reference to the conviction of ex-Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin in connection with the murder of George Floyd.
James deleted the tweet then later explained that he took it down because it was being used to “create more hate.” “I am so desperate for more ACCOUNTABILITY” James tweeted.
In an open letter posted to Facebook Sunday, LAPD Officer Deon Joseph, who also works as a law enforcement consultant, called the tweet “irresponsible and disturbing.”
He said James “showed a complete lack of understanding of the challenge of our job in the heat of a moment. You basically put a target on the back of a human being who had to make a split-second decision to save a life from a deadly attack.”
During an interview with KTLA Wednesday, Joseph said he could have easily been in a situation like the one in Ohio — where the teen was seen in bodycam video charging at people while armed with a knife — and that people, especially James, shouldn’t judge law enforcement officers for making potentially deadly or life-saving decisions.
“I just wanted him to know that in the heat of the moment, we’re human, we’re not perfect, but sometimes we have to do tough things to save people’s lives and I just thought that that tweet basically painted 800,000 of us with a really really broad brush,” Joseph said.
In his post, Joseph wrote to James: “You are tired of Black folks dying? So am I. You hate racism and police brutality? So do I. But you cannot paint 800,000 men and women who are of all races, faiths, sexual orientations and are also mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, preachers, coaches, community members and just human with such a broad and destructive brush.”
“I wanted to connect with him and have real dialogue with him, an honest discussion with two men so we can humanize each other and maybe, hopefully inspire communities and their police departments to begin talking to each other again,” the officer said Wednesday.
Joseph, who had Lakers flags and a jersey hung up behind him during a Zoom call, said he considers James a hero, and that he, too, mistrusted and disliked police before he became an officer. He said he has been racially profiled and had only seen negative portrayals of police, like those involved in the Rodney King beating in 1991.
But his perspective changed when he became an officer, and that superiors told him his actions could affect the entire agency if he did something wrong.
“I crossed that line, I joined the police force and I’ll never forget, my family members and people I love to this day said ‘once you join the police force they’re going to teach you to hate Black people, they’re going to teach you that Black folks are the target’ and none of that happened,” Joseph said.
He understands there is a particular perception of white officers being described as “evil,” but he said he developed his outreach policing style from a white officer who worked in a particularly violent area of Venice Beach, but was respected. Joseph learned that as long as you treat the people you encounter with respect, they will reciprocate.
“I patterned my career after a white officer who showed me that it’s not the color of your skin, it’s what’s in your heart, and it’s unfortunate that people are being judged by the color of their skin and not the content of their character, or in cases of police shootings, the context of the incident.”
Joseph recognizes that racial inequalities and biases exist in many fields, but that policing in particular has been in the spotlight because of high-profile use of force incidents.
“It’s kind of like a “tag, you’re it: Our profession is being used as a catalyst to solve ‘racism’ and it’s unfortunate because it’s demonizing some really incredible people that I work with,” the officer said.
“I don’t agree with what happened to Walter Scott, I think that was a murder. Laquan McDonald, I thought that was a murder, Oscar Grant, what happened to George Floyd, I think was disgusting and repulsive,” Joseph said about instances of Black men dying at the hands of police. “What’s not fair is me having to pay for something that I didn’t do, something that happened hundreds of miles away, when I care about my community.”
At the end of his post, Joseph wrote: “The offer is on the table Lebron. No cameras. No fanfare. Just two men who care talking. I know it’s a long shot. But this division and hatred must stop. It’s clear based on rising crime in marginalized communities that cops and the community need to build bridges to save lives on all sides. That cannot be done through the demonization of any group of people.”
While Joseph has not heard back from James, he said he still respects the basketball star, and he and his son are huge fans.
“I have nothing but love for the man, and I will not lose any love,” Joseph he said. “But hopefully this will inspire dialogue.”