Former NBA star Charles Barkley recently called Ferguson looters "scumbags," praised police officers who work in black neighborhoods, and said he supports the decision made by the grand jury not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown shooting.
During an interview on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia on Tuesday, the day after the Ferguson decision was announced, host Mike Missanelli asked Barkley about it and why "black America" doesn't trust the ruling.
His response surprised some listeners.
"The true story came out from the grand jury testimony," Barkley said, adding that he was made aware of "key forensic evidence, and several black witnesses that supported Officer Darren Wilson’s story..." He continued, "I can’t believe anything I hear on television anymore. And, that’s why I don’t like talking about race issues with the media anymore, because they (the media) love this stuff, and lead people to jump to conclusions. The media shouldn’t do that. They never do that when black people kill each other. "
He also called those who rioted after the decision was announced "scumbags," and said "There is no excuse for people to be out there burning down people's businesses, burning down police cars."
And in a marked departure from other prominent black leaders who have questioned tactics used by officers and, in some cases, accused officers of racial profiling and outright racism, Barkley supported police officers, especially those who work in black neighborhoods.
“[W]e have to be really careful with the cops, because if it wasn’t for the cops we would be living in the Wild, Wild West in our neighborhoods," he said. "We can’t pick out certain incidentals that don’t go our way and act like the cops are all bad.... Do you know how bad some of these neighborhoods would be if it wasn't for the cops?”
His comments are in sharp contrast with those made by other black leaders on the Ferguson case. Rev. Al Sharpton and civil rights activist Jesse Jackson have both criticized the Ferguson decision and racial profiling by police. President Obama is scheduled to hold meetings with civil rights groups Monday on law enforcement and how to rebuild trust in black communities.
Other black athletes have also reacted to the Ferguson decision. Prior to Sunday’s kickoff against the Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams football players Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt entered the field with their hands up, referring to the "hands up, don't shoot," rallying cry of Michael Brown supporters.
This PBS Newshour chart shows that a majority of grand jury witnesses agreed that Michael Brown reached into Officer Wilson's police car, but a majority also testified that Michael Brown had his hands up when he was fatally shot.
Barkley immediately drew praise from conservative media and bloggers. "Charles Barkley speaks the truth about Ferguson, calls out the media, and it’s EPIC," wrote Young Conservatives. "Former NBA star Charles Barkley slams Ferguson rioters, leftstream media and Obama," said the Tea Party News Network.
While Barkley's comments are a departure from that of some of his black colleagues, they shouldn't be surprising to those who know Barkley.
In 2013, Barkley famously said he agreed with the George Zimmerman acquittal in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. In July of last year, a Florida jury found that neighborhood watch leader Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic, was not guilty in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
"That’s probably not a popular opinion among most people. But just looking at the evidence, I agreed with the verdict," he told CNBC host Maria Bartiromo on CNBC's Closing Bell about the Zimmerman verdict.
Twitter lit up with reaction to Barkley's comments, both angry and supportive.
Regardless of the feedback he gets on his Ferguson comments, Barkley made it clear on the Philadelphia radio show that he will continue to share his thoughts on the Ferguson decision and on race in America, telling listeners, "I ain't shutting up and I ain't backing down."