How Coach Fizdale Survived South Central

How New Memphis Grizzlies Coach David Fizdale Survived South Central
Marc Spears

When you heard the news of the African-American men killed by police recently in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, what came to mind?

Rodney King. Took me all the way back to the riots [in 1992]. Took me back all the way back to, ‘I can’t believe this is still happening.’ Another black male being just like, treated like spit. Not being valued, and not … No one taking the time to take a deep breath again. And, again it’s another black male. This really takes you back to what you go through as a kid. I just remember a few times in high school right before the riots, you get pulled over and …

When you were pulled over it was never routine for young black males. It was, ‘Put your hands out of the car! Open the door from the outside! Back up with your hands up! Go down on your knees! Lock your fingers! OK, face on the ground!” I knew the routine, as you can tell. That’s a routine that you would go through. If it was more than one black man in the car, you’re usually getting pulled over. We got pulled over, and it was almost too common.

How common?

I would say four times a week I got pulled over. I was like 15, 16 years old. I was going to high school. You know as a kid, only one guy had a car. So we pile in that thing four or five deep, you know. But that was like the trigger for, ‘Oh, we’re pulling that car over.’ It just got to a point where, it just didn’t feel like you can move around freely. And this was America, and we were good kids, we weren’t even bad kids, we were basketball players. Not that I didn’t have buddies that were gangbanging or family members that were gangbangers. But we were just basketball guys. All of us took great pride in being really good basketball players.

Was there one incident with the L.A. police that stood out the most?

One time we were going to a house party in high school and we got pulled over in my sister’s Datsun … They got rough with us and slammed us up against the car, squeezed our fingers behind our head like until you would want to cry, basically. And then they left us on our knees in the street with our hands over our head, for like 45 minutes. In the middle of a street, a residential street.

What was the reason?

At the end of it all, for nothing. But you know the whole time, we’re sitting there. They’re basically telling us, ‘We’re going to find a reason to take you to jail. We know ya’ll are up to something.’ And me and my buddies were just sitting there in the middle of the street. Anybody that played basketball or sports in high school, going through those growth spurts, your knees are killing you. And to sit in the street on your knees on the concrete for 45 minutes. I had on jeans, but just the weight of your body, with you sitting on your knees with your hands behind your head for that long is brutal. And if we would move anything, it was, ‘You better stop [expletive] squirming.’ It was threatening and it was scary. When you’re just a kid, you don’t know what’s going to happen. And Rodney King was right after that.

What do you remember about the Rodney King situation?

I just remember all of us watching the TV with our mouths open saying, ‘[The police] finally got caught.’ We were excited. Somebody finally caught them and videotaped them. And, when they voted that day not guilty, it was just a kick in the stomach because we thought it’s finally going to change. It’s going to go back to where everybody can coexist, and you’re not going to be looking over your shoulder, you’re not worried about police beating your butt, getting beat over the head with something.


You just thought it was going to change. You just figured when the videotape came out, this will create change. What it did, it was one bad thing turned into two, and two turned into the riots.

How do you feel about the police?

Majority of cops are good people. They are here to serve us. They are here for our community. So, the thought of that [flier] sends chills through your body when you got these good people that are being shot at or killed, over all of this craziness.

How do you do you think the black community and the police are being judged now?

The whole black community right now is being judged over what happens with violence in the neighborhoods. So everybody is violent, everybody’s got a gun, everybody sells crack. Well, that’s the same thing that’s happens to the police. Because you’re grouped as this. The only way you break through that, is you got to get these groups of people together, minorities and police officers. And, make a way to create empathy.

As soon as we can get to that, it will simmer some of this stuff down. The way we pull people over needs to change. Because you’ll be thinking from a different perspective. If you think with empathy, man, this person may actually think I may hurt them when I pull them over.

Despite the problems you had as a teenager, you have fond memories of the L.A. police as a child.

The police were more community service officers. They were great to us. They gave us baseball cards, packs of gum, talked to us about staying away from drugs and things like that. Like, we knew the officers in our neighborhood. We knew them by name …

[Officer Chuck White] would take all of the kids in the neighborhood on the police bus on field trips. I remember going to water parks, Magic Mountain, Disneyland. This was 30, 40 kids on this bus, the whole neighborhood, everybody from every street.

Museums, exhibits, all paid for by the police. We would bring some money for lunch or something like that. That’s all our parents had to give us. Our parents would walk to the bus stop where he picked us up. It was total trust.

When did it change?

Crack hit and there was a huge shift in the way we were approached by the police. We were automatically assumed to be criminals, violent, up to something, and you know with that mentality came some physical abuse. You were just treated poorly, and there wasn’t as much a community service officer anymore, as much as it was overseers, and law enforcement. That’s a big difference when you look at the people that’s protecting you as someone that’s around you enforcing things on you. As opposed to serving you. And you could feel it. It was definite tension between the community and the officers.

What was your closest call?

I can’t even tell you how many times it was [a] close call … We were shooting marbles [one day] in between our buildings, like little kids do. I was probably about 12. And, these dudes were coming through there shooting at the gangbangers in the front of the building. They’re coming through the back of the building and we’re in between. And so I literally grabbed one of my little buddies, picked him up by the waist and his bike! I got the superstrength. And just took off running and bullets.

You could hear bullets hitting stuff. And, I literally just slid under a car, threw him under a car and we just hid back behind this car until it all slowed down.

I’ve seen people shot. I’ve seen people killed. You know, a kid died right in front of our building and we cleaned up his brain matter. I mean, think about that. The sad part is that, this stuff is still going on in so many places. So, I’ve been through it. And I get it.

You know, police, they’re scared for their life sometimes, dealing with some of the stuff in these tough neighborhoods. And gangbangers are scared of police because police are so controlling and tough on them. And normal black people are just scared because they are perceived as dangerous.

Memphis, Tennessee, your new home, has a big murder problem.

Now that I’m in the position that I’m in, I’m very concerned about our young black men in Memphis. Not only them killing each other, but them having to deal with anything with the police. And again, I’m not saying all police. I just went to an officer’s funeral in Memphis when I first got the job. Wonderful people. I met so many officers at this funeral. I’m talking about wonderful people, in a very tough situation in the middle of Memphis right now.

Memphis is breaking the record for the murder rate. So again, I empathize with them. But my biggest concern is how do I help these young black men in the neighborhood stop killing each other first. Stop creating an environment of terror for the good people that are in their neighborhood because those poor people have to live in it. It ain’t like they have a lot of options to move around. When you’re living check to check, or below, it’s not like you got places to move that’s going to be better than that.

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The Conversation Has to Stay Fresh

If it’s not your daily experience, you don’t understand it. I didn’t talk to my kids about how to act in front of a policeman when you get stopped. I didn’t have to do that. All of my black friends have done that. There’s something that’s wrong about that, and we all know that. What’s the solution? Nobody has figured it out. But for sure, the conversation has to stay fresh, it has to stay continuous, it has to be persistent, and we all have a responsibility to make sure that happens in our communities.”

– Gregg Popovich

Homogeneous Bubbles

Am I Introverted, or Just Rude?
K.J. Dell’antonia

Society has a rich history of people seizing on social evolution as an excuse for bad manners. From the Romantic poets to the transcendentalists to the Summer of Love hippies, many have rejected a supposed facade of good behavior in favor of being true to their inner nature. Good manners are mere mannerisms, the argument goes, which serve only to put barriers in the way of deeper connections.

There’s another argument to be made, though, that those deeper connections are the easy ones. It’s the looser ties, the ones that have to be created or re-created at each meeting, that are tough. Life is largely lived among acquaintances and strangers. So many fall into problematic categories: some appear different or unapproachable, some we actively dislike, some we’ve failed to connect with in the past. What do we have to gain from even trying?

A lot, as it turns out. When I skip big gatherings of strangers, I’m not just being a little rude to the individual people around me, I’m being uncivil in a larger sense. The more we isolate ourselves from new people, the more isolated and segregated our society is likely to become. Those casual interactions in dog runs and at kids’ hockey games are the ones that are most likely to cross social and economic barriers. They expand my little world as well as the overlapping bubbles that create a society.

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