June 5, 2020  Members Only

Tierra Ruffin-Pratt discusses systemic racism, police brutality

Los Angeles Sparks star speaks to The Next about her work on Black Lives Matter

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Tierra Ruffin-Pratt. (Chris Poss photo)

With issues of systemic racism and police brutality coming to the forefront of this country within the past week, professional athletes have largely taken the charge in being active voices for change.

Los Angeles Sparks forward Tierra Ruffin-Pratt has been one of those athletes, and this all hits very close to home for her. Her cousin was killed seven years ago by an off-duty police officer in Arlington, Virginia where she grew up. It all happened hours after she signed her first WNBA contract with the Washington Mystics.

Charles Patterson, an Arlington County sheriff’s deputy, shot and killed Julian Dawkins, Ruffin-Pratt’s cousin, after an alleged argument. Patterson was originally charged with first-degree murder but ultimately convicted of voluntary manslaughter. He served only six years in prison.

On a Zoom conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Ruffin-Pratt spoke about the role professional athletes play when it comes to social change, as well as her own experiences surrounding her cousin’s killing.

One of the things she made sure to highlight is the long waiting process that the families of victims of police violence often have to endure when seeking justice. It took a week before Patterson was eventually arrested and charged.

“You got to wait for them to be arrested then you got to wait for the trial, you got to wait for a conviction and then it’s kind of like what now? For most people, this will blow over at some point, but for the families, they’re still waiting,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “If a police officer or a white person kills a black person, they get to go home to their families until they feel like it’s okay to arrest them. But if the shoe was on the other foot, if it was a black person killing somebody, they go to jail immediately.”

This isn’t Ruffin-Pratt’s first go-round with social activism since she’s been in the WNBA. Back in 2016 following the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling at the hands of law enforcement, she was instrumental in organizing a blackout during which Mystics players wore ‘Black Lives Matter’ warmup shirts and wouldn’t answer any postgame media questions about basketball.

The blackout was also organized in response to the WNBA issuing fines to players across the league for making a statement by wearing plain black t-shirts instead of the team issued warmups.

While individual WNBA teams have issued recent statements in regard to systemic racism and police brutality, the league itself has yet to make an official statement. Ruffin-Pratt acknowledged some of the changes under the new leadership of WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert, while still remaining cautious on what comes next.

“We’re not playing right now so we don’t know what would have happened of the same thing came up and we’re in season and playing, that we wanted to wear t-shirts or not stand for the anthem or whatever the case may be,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “All we know is they put out quotes, saying they’re standing with us. I think as time goes on, we’ll see if it’s just hose one or two posts that they put out. Does it end there or what goes on after? I know for us players, we’re trying to everything we can possible to stand in and be united on one front.”

And across the league, WNBA players have been united in the message they’re trying to get across. They’ve taken to various forms of social media to amplify that message. One of the most vocal, Ruffin-Pratt’s former Washington teammate, Natasha Cloud, penned a powerful piece for the Players Tribune titled, ‘Your Silence Is a Knee on My Neck.’

Many professional athletes have come under fire for taking a stand against social injustice. Those in opposition to athletes speaking out for social justice have echoed conservative political commentator Laura Ingraham’s infamous ‘shut up and dribble’ line.

To Ruffin-Pratt and her WNBA counterparts, this is something bigger than basketball. This is something that they refuse to be quiet about.

“If people agree with us or don’t agree with us, it doesn’t really matter to us,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “We’re standing for black people in this country that haven’t gotten justice, black people who’ve lost their lives and black people that came before us. We stand for generations before us, our generation, and generations to come. We need to see a change and we want to see a change, so we’re going to do everything in our power to try to make that happen as best we can.”

To date, social media timelines have been filled with people echoing the same message in regard to systemic racism. Rallies in all 50 states have taken place and continue to take place. While it’s been encouraging to see so many people speaking out, Ruffin-Pratt has a message for everyone currently partaking in social activism.

“Whatever you fight for, whatever you decide to stand for, just make sure you continually do it. Don’t just let it be because it’s popular and it’s the hip thing right now to do it,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “And it can’t just end in a week like it usually does or in a month when all this kind of dies down. So it’s something that we have to constantly talk about until a change is made.”

David has been with The Next team since the High Post Hoops days when he joined the staff in 2018. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the LA Sparks, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference and some high school as well.

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