The women have the financial advice and backing of their group, Direct Action Everywhere, to fly into these cities, enter the arenas and pay for quite decent seats. But women also possess the white skin tones – a far greater currency in America – that give access to the courts without asking questions.
They have the privilege of protesting.
Charles Barkley can laugh at himself. Kevin Durant still needs to learn.
Their freedom to casually go down about 18 rows, as Alicia Santurio did on April 12 during the Timberwolves’ play-in game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Her last name comes from her Uruguayan father and her mother is Italian. But most people in society would see her fair skin and in their eyes register her as an average white woman – only average in the sense that of course she must be harmless and law-abiding.
“I just walked down and could just walk past everyone,” Santurio told me this week, telling how she entered the field when officers, servers and even security guards had turned their attention to the action. “No one stopped me. Just walked by.”
Understand that an NBA game is a controlled environment. There are officers standing at the top of the lower level sections, making sure everyone who is about to go down has a ticket to these seats. There are arena security staff on the sidelines, baseline and court seats – a few of them even have their backs to the action and throw their full attention on what is happening in the stands. And in the immediate vicinity of the players’ seats, there is a cache of team or private security guards and city police officers.
The court is precious real estate. Early this season, NBA teams treated recognized media members as if they were carriers of an as yet undiscovered strain of the virus and restricted their access to beyond the first row of seats, not on the court. And this restriction was in place before the tip-off. So imagine how challenging it would be to get all the way to the track during the game.
Unless, of course, you possess the features that automatically eliminate you, in the biased mind, as a suspect.
There was a time not so long ago when a black man could not get on an NBA court, even after the team he built won a championship.
In June 2019, the Toronto Raptors hosted the Golden State Warriors, an unlikely victory with a first-year head coach and a mercenary star. And Masai Ujiri, the president of the Raptors, was the brains that had transformed the franchise from a forgotten outpost north to the champions. When it was time to celebrate, he did not hurry to court. He maneuvered calmly around the crowded baseline seats.
Ujiri was wearing a suit. He tried to show his ID. He identified himself as the “President of the Raptors.” He was still cursed and pushed twice by a police officer who behaved as if excessive force was needed to fight a furious intruder.
During the Timberwolves play-in game, however, Santurio was wearing a black T-shirt that labeled Glen Taylor as a chicken killer. She had no ID, just super glue. She reached all the way to the playing field and clung to the surface before anyone noticed it.
On April 21, Zoe Rosenberg threw a chain around her neck and strapped to the basket stand inside the FedEx Forum in Memphis. On the Grizzlies’ broadcast, the speaker said Rosenberg had been there for a while “and no one noticed.”
By the time Sasha Zemmel tried to perform her stunt on Saturday – while wearing an outfit resembling an NBA referee’s uniform, she would try to issue a “fine” and deportation to Taylor in front of his seat at the courtyard – Target Center staff have been on high alert for protests. A hoarse security guard watched Zemmel and her partner, who took their two seats behind Taylor well after the match had started. Zemmel reached only a few steps to the track before she was tackled and dragged away.
Rosenberg and Zemmel were arrested and spent a night in jail, according to Matt Johnson, Direct Action Everywhere spokesman. Zemmel faces disorderly conduct and charges of fifth-degree assault, while Rosenberg’s charges in Memphis include disorderly conduct and criminal offense, Johnson said.
Santurio, known as “Glue Girl”, went first and was not arrested or charged with a crime.
“I was prepared. I definitely thought I was [would] be arrested, ”Santurio said.
Instead, two police officers took her to a room downstairs, where she refused to answer questions on the advice of her lawyer. They issued her a one-year quarantine from the arena and escorted her out. Santurio was free, able to tweet about the incident.
She was never pushed or respected during or after her action. In fact, she said, arena security and Timberwolves guard Patrick Beverley were “incredibly friendly” when her glued hand sat on the court.
Sports can be a valuable platform to reinforce an idea, and protests carried out on the turf, the court or an Olympic medal stand can force people to sit up and listen. Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised a fist, Colin Kaepernick took a knee: It was racial oppression protests that sparked conversation and influenced change. It was subtle actions, silent. Not the sledgehammer disturbances from animal rights activists who want to save the chickens.
Then again, the group has achieved its desired effect: attention.
Santurio acknowledges that her privilege as a woman who appears to have been white has played a role in helping the cheeky demonstrations.
Santurio, who also took part in protests against the murder of George Floyd, lives on the west coast and tells the story of lending his truck to his brother-in-law, a black man. For a year, she drove around the Bay Area with expired marks and never noticed it. But the same day her brother-in-law got behind the wheel, he was pulled over by police.
“I agree one hundred percent … because I’m White-fit, I’m able to do more,” Santurio said. “If it was a black woman or a black man who went down [the arena steps]they would probably have stopped them, and it hurts me that people are treated like that. ”
Santurio and her colleagues have leaned on their appearance to climb this scene and draw attention to their case. In the arena, they have mingled as innocent fans. Even when Santurio and Rosenberg left their seats, they were not stopped because they still looked innocent. It is the power of privilege.