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Dave Naylor

TSN Football Insider

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Jamar Wall grew up in Plainview, Texas, a small town where he felt mostly sheltered from the sharp edges of racism.

But the experience of police officers drawing their guns on him when he was in his early 20s has always stuck with the nine-year Calgary Stampeders defensive back. George Floyd's death in Minneapolis has brought a lot of those emotions back.

The incident occurred in 2011 when Wall was back in Lubbock, Texas, returning to school after spending some time with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. He was outside his apartment discussing plans with his father to get their licenses to carry a concealed weapon, something that is legal in Texas. His mother was also there.

Someone must have overheard the conversation, because within minutes the police arrived and drew their guns on him and his father.

"I’m like, this is crazy, it’s the first time I’ve ever had a gun pointed at me," he said. "To me this was unbelievable … I had two officers pointing guns at me. Someone must have heard us talking about it and called the police. And you have these officers come up and I don’t know what they’ve been told and what kind of day they’ve had, and my life is literally in their hands. It was terrifying … and I’m like, why?"

That moment served as an awakening for Wall. As he began to move beyond the world of his upbringing, his perspective began to change. He kept asking himself the question, "Why?"

"It’s because of history [the incident with the police] happened," Wall said. "And seeing this continue and continue to happen, I really feel like I have a voice … it’s sad that we’re in 2020 and this is a revolving circle that’s been going on for centuries.

"Why are people so scared of the Black community? I truly believe it’s from a lack of understanding. We just want to be loved. It’s all about love … so our families and our kids can grow up and have equal opportunities."

The birth of his first daughter five years ago deepened Wall’s consciousness about race and pushed him to further study the history of Black Americans. He wanted to better understand the path that’s led to where things are today.

Wall, who lives year-round in Calgary and marched in Monday’s Black Lives Matter protest in the city, believes that history is something most people haven’t taken the time to understand.

"If they did you wouldn’t be hearing, ‘All lives matter,’" he said. "We know that. The Black community knows that and when you hear that you have to take into consideration that Black lives are part of all lives. Black people are the ones getting shot in the street … you don’t see that with everyone else.

"I’m trying to educate myself as well … people were holding the same signs [in the past] … the same stuff we’re doing to this day, and it’s continued to be covered up and ignored for so long."

Wall believes that education can start at home, recommending that people watch documentaries about the setbacks Black Americans have faced, dating back to the end of slavery. He cited 13th, a Netflix production where scholars, activists and politicians analyze the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom, and Black Wall Street, a YouTube documentary about a race riot in Tulsa, Okla., in 1921, as two examples.

Wall said he’s constantly taking notes, jotting down ideas he can suggest to people to educate themselves – something he believes is necessary to achieve the change he’d like to see in the world.

"Try to listen," he said. "Let’s really sit down and ask ourselves, ‘What can be changed?’ What is the Black community really trying to say to us? Educate yourself, read your books, watch documentaries, Google things … and don’t be scared of these conversations. Have them with your parents, have them with your friend, have them with your kids. Have them with whoever wants to listen.

"Vote … I really want to encourage the Black community to vote … what counts is when you don’t vote. And it starts at your local. Use your platform, I’m a professional athlete so I can talk to TSN, but not everyone can do that. But you can continue to put stuff on social media, put it out there because someone can benefit from it. Those are the actions we need to take. Just continue to do your part and educate, educate, educate."

Wall was a child in 1992 when Los Angeles and other cities erupted after police officers were cleared of assaulting Rodney King despite the incident being caught on video tape, a rare instance before there were cell phone cameras.

He has hope that people will one day look back and see 2020 as a turning point because of how widespread and diverse the current movement is.

"I do have hope," Wall said. "Then [1992] it was more of a Black community, Black people riot and things of that sort, whereas now it’s more than just that. It’s a world fight. You have people in New Zealand marching and doing these things … all these different places.

"If we want this world to thrive and prosper, it’s going to be a full-out world effort, and I think that’s what’s happening. That’s what’s bringing happiness and joy to me."