Animal rights protesters at NBA games rely on privilege



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Privilege feels non-threatening and unassuming. He fades long enough to be out of mind before revealing his true boldness. It sounds a lot like the animal rights activists who have held Minnesota Timberwolves games hostage, using the court canvas for their performative displays of protest.

There are three women at the center of recent protests that have gone from zero to 1,000 in games played in Minneapolis and Memphis. The women hit the playground or the basketball post, drawing attention to themselves for their cause: Timberwolves co-owner Glen Taylor and the slaughter of 5.3 million chickens to fight an outbreak of bird flu on his industrial egg farm.

The women have the financial means and the support of their group, Direct Action Everywhere, to fly to these cities, enter the arenas and pay for fairly decent seats. But women also possess the passing white skin tones — a far bigger currency in America — that provide access to court, no questions asked.

They have the privilege of protesting.

Charles Barkley can laugh at himself. Kevin Durant still needs to learn.

Their freedom is to casually walk about 18 rows, like Alicia Santurio did on April 12 in the Timberwolves’ playoff against the Los Angeles Clippers. Her surname comes from her Uruguayan father and her mother is Italian. However, 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 and was able to pass everyone by,” Santurio told me this week, explaining how she entered the court after ushers, servers and even security had turned their heads. attention towards action. “Nobody stopped. I passed right by.

Understand that an NBA game is a controlled environment. There are ushers standing at the top of the lower level sections, making sure that anyone about to get off has a ticket for those seats. There are arena security personnel dotting the sideline, baseline and pitchside seats – some of them even have their backs to the action, giving all their attention to what is happening in the stands. And in the vicinity closest to the players’ seats, there is a cache of team or private security guards and city police officers.

The yard is valuable real estate. At the start of this season, NBA teams treated members of the accredited media as if they carried an as yet undetected strain of the virus and limited their access beyond the front row of seats, not on field. And this restriction was in place prior to the whistleblowing. So imagine how hard it would be to make it to court during the game.

Unless, of course, you possess the characteristics that automatically eliminate you, in the biased mind, as a suspect.

Not so long ago, a black man couldn’t walk onto an NBA court even after the team he built won a championship.

In June 2019, the Toronto Raptors defeated host Golden State Warriors, an unlikely victory with a freshman head coach and star mercenary. And Masai Ujiri, the Raptors’ president, was the mastermind that transformed the franchise from a forgotten northern outpost to champions. When it was time to celebrate, he didn’t rush onto the pitch. He maneuvered calmly around the crowded base seats.

Ujiri was wearing a suit. He tried to show his credentials. He identified himself as “president of the Raptors”. He was still cursed and shoved twice by a policeman who acted as if excessive force was needed to fight off an enraged intruder.

During that Timberwolves game, however, Santurio wore a black T-shirt that called Glen Taylor a chicken killer. She didn’t have a degree, just super glue. She made it all the way to the playground and settled on the surface before anyone noticed.

On April 21, Zoe Rosenberg threw a chain around her neck and attached herself to the shopping cart post inside the FedEx Forum in Memphis. During the Grizzlies telecast, the announcer said Rosenberg had been there for a while “and no one noticed.”

The moment Sasha Zemmel tried to pull off her stunt on Saturday – while wearing an outfit that looked like an NBA referee’s uniform, she would try to ‘fine’ and eject Taylor outside her courtside seat – Target Center personnel must have been on high alert for the protests. A heady security guard observed Zemmel and his associate, who took their two seats behind Taylor well into the game. Zemmel only took a few steps towards the field before being tackled and carried away.

Rosenberg and Zemmel were arrested and spent a night in jail, according to Direct Action Everywhere spokesman Matt Johnson. Zemmel faces charges of disorderly conduct and fifth-degree assault, while Rosenberg’s charges in Memphis include disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing, Johnson said.

Santurio, known as the “Glue Girl”, passed first and was not arrested or charged with a crime.

“I was prepared. I thought of course that I [would] be arrested,” Santurio said.

Instead, two police officers took her to a downstairs room, where she refused to answer questions on the advice of her lawyer. They issued her a year-long ban from the arena and escorted her to the exit. Santurio was free, able to tweet about the incident.

She was never pushed around or disrespected during or after her act. In fact, she said, arena security and Timberwolves goaltender Patrick Beverley were “incredibly nice” as her taped hand landed on the field.

Sport can be a valuable platform to amplify an idea, and protests carried out on turf, field or an Olympic medal stand can force people to sit up and listen. Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists, Colin Kaepernick kneeling: These were protests against racial oppression that sparked conversations and influenced change. They were subtle, silent acts. Not the mass disruptions of animal rights activists who want to save the chickens.

Again, the group achieved the desired impact: attention.

Santurio acknowledges that her privilege as a woman who appears to be white played a role in aiding the brazen protests.

Santurio, who has also been involved in protests over the killing 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 tags and never noticed. But the same day his brother-in-law got behind the wheel, he was arrested by the police.

“I agree 100 percent…because I’m a white setter, I’m able to do more,” Santurio said. “If it was a black woman or a black man coming down [the arena steps]they probably would have arrested them, and it makes me sick that people are treated like that.

Santurio and his colleagues relied on their appearance to take this step and bring attention to their cause. In the arena, they blended in as innocent fans. Even when Santurio and Rosenberg left their seats, they weren’t arrested because they still looked innocent. This is the power of privilege.