He typically avoids flagrant fouls, but LeBron James faced calls to apologize Thursday for targeting an officer who shot and killed a knife-wielding Black teenager amid a growing backlash over the anti-police narrative.
The NBA superstar posted and then quickly deleted a tweet showing a photo of the officer at the scene in Columbus, Ohio, below the caption “YOU’RE NEXT” with an hourglass emoji, prompting Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, to accuse the player of “inciting violence.”
“What LeBron James did is especially appalling,” Mr. Cotton said on Fox News. “He didn’t just jump to conclusions and say, ‘This officer committed cold-blooded murder.’ He posted the officer’s photograph and he said, ‘You’re next.’ What did he expect to happen?”
Mr. Cotton continued: “He took it down because he realized just how wrong it was, but he owes this officer an apology.”
Additional video footage released Thursday by a neighbor and the Columbus Division of Police confirmed what the police bodycam video showed: That 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant had backed another Black teenage girl against a car as she brandished a knife when she was shot and killed.
Officer Nicholas Reardon, who reportedly joined the force in December 2019 after serving in the military, was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an independent probe being conducted by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee tweeted that “LeBron James needs to apologize to the Ohio cop he smeared,” while Clay Travis of the sports commentary podcast Outkick the Coverage said “LeBron should apologize to every police officer in America.”
No mea culpa was forthcoming Thursday, but Mr. James did offer an explanation for why he posted and then took down the tweet from his account, which has 49.6 million followers, more than President Biden’s 10.2 million.
“I’m so damn tired of seeing Black people killed by police,” he tweeted. “I took the tweet down because its being used to create more hate -This isn’t about one officer. it’s about the entire system and they always use our words to create more racism. I am so desperate for more ACCOUNTABILITY.”
As one of the most famous professional athletes in the world, Mr. James drew the lion’s share of attention, but he was hardly the only public figure to denounce police over the shooting, despite video evidence indicating that another girl was in imminent danger.
Former Obama White House adviser Valerie Jarrett tweeted that “a police officer immediately decided to shoot her multiple times in order to break up a knife fight,” even though the other girl was unarmed, while “The View” host Joy Behar said the officer should have fired in the air “as a warning.”
Ohio State students held a march and a sit-in at the student union to demand that the university cut off its relationship with Columbus police, while Black Lives Matter protesters gathered for a second night outside the Columbus police station.
“It’s been maddening to see so many people strip away the fact that a child was killed,” tweeted Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Michigan Democrat. “We cannot be a society that justifies the killing of a child.”
The timing of the shooting was particularly fraught, coming the same day as the guilty verdict against former officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, a case that riveted the nation and touched off last year’s mass Black Lives Matter protests and rioting.
There was also a protest Wednesday over the death of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, after he was shot and killed as he attempted to drive away as police sought to serve a warrant, according to a witness. Police have not confirmed the details.
The White House was accused of rushing to judgment in the Ohio shooting after press secretary Jen Psaki responded to a question about Ma’Khia Bryant’s death by bemoaning “police violence” and “systemic racism.”
“We know that police violence disproportionately impacts Black and Latino people in communities, and that Black women and girls, like Black men and boys, experience higher rates of police violence,” Ms. Psaki said Wednesday to reporters.
Former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani tweeted that if “Biden had even one ounce of leadership, he would ask everyone not to draw conclusion[s] about the Columbus shooting,” while Mr. Cotton said that the president owes officers an apology.
“Yesterday Joe Biden’s mouthpiece immediately jumped to the conclusion this officer was racist,” Mr. Cotton said. “Although we shouldn’t reach a conclusion until all the evidence is in, it was obvious from the video that we’ve seen that the person who was shot had a knife and was about to stab another person.”
Donavan Brinson, who lives across the street from the house where the shooting occurred, released video from his garage camera that showed Ma’Khia raising her arm back as if she were preparing to strike the other girl with the knife.
“He literally got out of the vehicle and had seconds to respond,” Mr. Brinson said on Fox News. “The video doesn’t lie.”
Franklin County Children Services said Ma’Khia was a foster child under the agency’s care, while the Bryant family released a statement saying she was “a good student, a good person, and did not deserve what happened to her.”
“We want to remind everyone Ma’Khia was only a 16-year-old teenage girl,” the family said. “We are deeply disturbed by the disproportionate and unjustified use of force in this situation.”
Meanwhile, NBC News came under criticism for its on-air report that played the 911 call from an unidentified woman saying “it’s these grown girls over here trying to fight us,” but omitted the next phrase, “trying to stab us,” as shown by the conservative Media Research Center’s Nicholas Fondacaro.
Police were none too pleased with Mr. James’ tweet. The National Fraternal Order of Police called it “disgraceful & extremely reckless,” while the National Association of Police Organizations went further, calling his comments “disgusting” and uninformed.
“Make no mistake about it, if the police officer did not take action to save another young woman’s life, James would likely be the first person out there claiming the racist police just stood idly by while another Black child was murdered,” the association said in a statement.
“Now instead of showing even the slightest recognition that officers are sometimes put into impossible situations, he threatens the murder of the officer who was forced to save another person’s life,” the statement continued. “Ignorance, even in a billionaire like James is never pretty. But James‘ display of ignorance coupled with a threat to murderous violence is disgusting, indeed.”
Liberal CNN hosts Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo defended the officer’s split-second decision, with Mr. Lemon saying that “we’ve got to be fair.”
“When they roll up on the scene, they see people tussling around, someone has a knife, and their job is to protect and serve every life on that scene,” Mr. Lemon said. “And if they see someone who is in the process of taking a life, what decision do they have to make? And I know that people say well, you know, you could do this, you could do that. Tasers don’t work the way guns work. Not at that distance.”
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is conducting an independent probe into the shooting, and the officer has been placed on administrative lead.
Officer Reardon, whose father was a sergeant who retired from the Columbus police force, is an Air National Guardsman who received an expert marksman badge with an M4 carbine rifle, as reported by the Daily Beast.
Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Republican, credited Mr. James with removing the tweet while noting that the Los Angeles Lakers star is “clearly a leader for many Americans.”
“I think sometimes Mr. James has more zeal than wisdom,” Mr. Kennedy said. “He doesn’t wait on the facts. I mean, he can go from zero to ‘screw everyone’ pretty fast. I wish I was as sure of anything as Mr. James sometimes seems to be sure of everything. I don’t want to be overly critical, but on a situation like this, you have to get the facts.”
⦁ Jessica Chasmar and Victor Morton contributed to this report.