BOSTON (CBS) — Semi Ojeleye was disturbed and angry to watch George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, a murder that has sparked both peaceful protests and riots around the country over the last week. While Floyd’s death filled him with rage, Ojeleye says that now is the time to peacefully come together to fix what is wrong in this country.
“It’s disturbing when you see that type of thing happening. The root of it is hate. When you see someone snuffing out someone else’s life, it goes deeper than even race,” Ojeleye told WBZ-TV’s Steve Burton. “Hate is a powerful thing and it’s bleeding into our society right now and causing a lot of disturbance throughout the entire country.”
Ojeleye is disappointed to see the peaceful protests turn into riots and looting, and is asking those participating in such acts to stop.
“We cannot become the hate we are trying to eradicate. Right now we’re upset and angry, and rightfully so. We’ve seen things we can’t un-see that are going to keep us up at night. Especially as a black man in society, it goes back to all the of former instances that we’ve seen. All the way from Rodney King, Eric Garner to right now. It’s something that is going to take time to change, but as a nation and as a people, we can’t let that hate become what drives us,” he said. “If we allow looting to be our response, then you become the people out there hurting others.”
Ojeleye says police officers need to do a better job opening a dialogue with the black community, but added that it goes both ways. Not every cop is bad, and people need to show them respect as well.
“As people, we don’t know how to communicate with them. They’re the ones we look to, and if we could just communicate with them in a better way – whether that’s how they train or in a case-by-case basis – that will make everyone feel safer. It will take time to rebuild that trust,” he said.
“We need to give them the respect they deserve. Their job is to protect us,” he added. “Sometimes they may not do that given the situation, but they are in authority over us trying to protect us. They do the right thing more often than they don’t, but when they don’t the consequences are huge. There needs to be accountability.”
Ojeleye said his faith has taught him that the best way to fight hatred is with love.
“It sounds idealistic and it might be a tough thing to even fathom, when you see such hate out there, but that’s the only way to change it. If we fight hate with hate, we all lose,” he said.
Much like head coach Brad Stevens, Ojeleye was proud to see his Celtics teammates leading the charge in protests over the weekend. He applauded Jaylen Brown for leading a protest in Atlanta on Saturday, and Marcus Smart, Enes Kanter and Vincent Poirier for lending their voices in Boston on Sunday.
“JB is a leader,” he said of Brown. “The way he organized that, the way he stepped up to the call right away is big time. Enes, Vincent, Marcus were at the protest and answered the call as well. We have to all use our voice, stand for it and let people know where we stand on it and how we want justice.”
Ojeleye hopes that using his status as an athlete now will help people realize he is much more than just a basketball player.
“I want people to see me as a person, not even an athlete. My career is going to be temporary. We all as athletes, especially during this time, we have to show we’re more than that,” he said. “During this time or racism and injustice, we have our voice and out platforms, and there’s no better time speak up to tell people we want equality, and how together, through unity, we can change this.”