Opinion: ‘I agree with Sir Charles, defunding law enforcement is not the answer; reform is’

Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance shares his latest thoughts on the impacts of the stay-at-home orders in place to address the coronavirus pandemic.
Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance shares his latest thoughts on the impacts of the stay-at-home orders in place to address the coronavirus pandemic.

Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance shares his thoughts on comments made by NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley this week

There were two occasions in my tenure covering the National Basketball Association when I had unpleasant encounters with Hall of Famer Charles Barkley. Full disclosure, I contributed to the tension in our interactions by correcting him for an inaccurate assumption he made in the first of the two encounters.

Nonetheless, “Sir Charles,’’ the “Round Mound of Rebound,’’ wasn’t very nice to me in the first exchange and then he shocked me a few years later when he repeated his obvious lack of fondness for me. I wouldn’t have thought he would have even remembered me, which I can’t guarantee he did, but both myself and others who witnessed the second encounter felt confident Charles, at least, remembered he didn’t like me very much.

I didn’t let the encounters poison my appreciation for Barkley, either as an athlete or as a human being. I remember writing a column many years ago after his famous — or in the eyes of some, infamous — quote in a television commercial. “I am not a role model,’’ Barkley said. I agreed with Charles, not from the perspective that he, individually, was not a role model, but that athletes in general, had no greater responsibility to be role models than you or I. As much as a sports fanatic as I have been throughout my entire life, when it comes to matters of integrity and character, I can look beyond someone’s ability to shoot a basketball through a rim, throw a football 60 yards in the air, or hit a baseball 400 feet to determine who is, and who is not, a worthy role model.

Since my encounters with him those 20-some years ago, I have never ceased to be amazed about how often I agree with Charles when he speaks. He’s controversial. He doesn’t sugarcoat things. He’s honest, and not in a mean-spirited or brutal way. He’s direct. Someone I have a lot of appreciation for once told me there’s no greater respect you can give a person than to be blunt or direct. Many people don’t agree with a lot of the things Charles says. In fact, it’s well known that he essentially lost his long-time friendship with Michael Jordan because he was critical of Jordan’s performance as an NBA owner and executive. I’m sure Michael isn’t the only friend Barkley has lost over something he said.

In an interview on CNN Tuesday, Barkley urged lawmakers to enact police reform but he rebuffed calls to defund police, which has become a hotly debated topic around the country in recent days. 

“We need the cops, most of the cops do a fantastic job, but instead of defunding and all this other stuff, let’s just do police reform. Everybody should be on board for that whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, conservative or liberal,” Barkley said.

Barkley called the death of George Floyd a “disgrace” that should concern everyone in America regardless of race. I agree.

“This is not black or white, this is just about humanity,” Barkley said. “To see a grown man die before our eyes. If you’re not upset by that if you’re white, Jewish, Chinese, anything, there is something wrong with you.”

Once again, I find myself in agreement with Barkley’s thoughts. I can’t fathom the thought of living in a community without a recognized police force. I’m comforted by the presence of law enforcement. It allows me to sleep at night. That said, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been listening, because I have. I know there’s members of our community who aren’t comforted by law enforcement.

I listened when Clark County Today reporter Paul Valencia interviewed four young black men recently. Their stories had an impact on me. Their experiences made me pause. I was stunned when Skyview High School senior Jalynnee McGee said he holds his money in his hand when he walks into a store so the clerk knows he’s there as a paying customer and there is no reason to call the police on him. That’s why we need reform, not just in law enforcement, but in our community; in our hearts. 

I’m also concerned about the conversation to remove School Resource Officers from schools. I immediately think about the story of former Oregon football standout Keanon Lowe, who was able to coax a rifle out of the hands of a troubled student last year at Parkrose High School across the river in Oregon. Lowe was one of three security guards at the school at the time. Lowe hugged the student and comforted him. No one was killed. No one was injured.

As I said, I’ve listened. I’ve heard that some students aren’t comforted by the presence of police officers in our schools, just like some citizens aren’t comforted by the presence of law enforcement in our community. That’s part of the necessary reform. 

Everybody with peace in their heart and good intentions should be comforted by the presence of police officers. I understand that is not currently the case for everyone. So, we need that to change. But, I agree with Sir Charles, defunding law enforcement is not the answer; reform is.