-Image: Associated Press
Timing might be everything, but it is not always the only thing. Take, for instance, the story of the Staten Island Yankees, a minor league baseball club in New York City.
As all minor league teams do, the Staten Island Yankees fill their schedule with one promotional event after another. One of those events became controversial because of its timing and location in Staten Island.
Here’s the problem: The Yankees, of the Staten Island variety, held Blue Lives Matter Night to honor police officers on Aug. 9 — the first anniversary of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
The event was organized by a charitable organization, Blue Lives Matter NYC, in honor of NYPD detectives Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were ambushed and killed by a gunman whose only motivation was to kill cops on Dec. 20, 2014.
One of Liu’s relatives threw out the first pitch. Every fan at the ballpark went home with a “Blue Lives Matter” bracelet.
This was not the first time the team held an event honoring police officers. The Yankees had a Law Enforcement Appreciation Night on July 20. That was three days after the first anniversary of the death of Eric Garner. He is the man who died after being put in a chokehold by an NYPD officer.
The timing of Law Enforcement Appreciation Night might have been close to incendiary, but it was nothing like the reaction to the Blue Lives Matter promotion.
The Root, an online news publication that bills itself as “the premier news, opinion and culture site” for the African-American community, reported one of its readers sent an email complaining about the BLM event to Michael Holley, senior director of marketing and “fan experience” for the Staten Island Yankees.
“Wow, could this promotion be any more offensive, divisive and disrespectful. On the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, this is what the SI Yankees organization chooses to do? This is beyond poor judgment,” the reader wrote. “Did it occur to anyone at the SI Yankees how alienating this is to fans who have been deeply affected by the events that spurred the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, including those right here in Staten Island? … I will no longer attend games, nor will I recommend them to others until an apology and amends are made for this utterly tasteless promotion. I intend to write the NY Yankees Front Office and the Baseball Commissioner’s office to lodge a formal complaint and urge others to do the same. You should know better, and be better. This is a disgrace to the entire Yankees organization.”
Holley’s response, according to a statement the reader forwarded to The Root:
We at the Staten Island Yankees have been greatly affected by these issues along with everyone else in the St. George community. We all know that the protests in Manhattan and Brooklyn have stolen the headlines, but I truly believe that those that occurred here in Staten Island were the most heart-breaking—we all watched through our office windows as family and friends of Eric Garner stood in protest, notably with a lack of any sort of violence or, frankly, any sort of direction at times. To watch those take place was to feel an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness above all else. Here on Staten Island, people were sad and confused, not violent and angry. Nowhere else was it more abundantly clear that we are truly no winners in this struggle. I’ll remember those moments forever.
We put a lot of thought into whether or not to hold this promotion when Blue Lives Matter originally approached us. We try our best to accurately represent the interests of our community, and this issue is so divisive that it seemed like people wanted us to draw a line in the sand. But the more we thought about it, it came to down to this: Blue Lives Matter is an organization that supports the families of those who have been killed in action. I can’t pretend for a minute to understand who is right and who is wrong when something like that happens, but I DO know that families should NOT have to suffer. And for that reason, anyone who wants our help in raising resources to help those in need in our community will always have our ear.
It’s important for us to be a platform for support in St. George and on Staten Island in general, and I hope that everyone can look to something like this as an example of what we can do to help everyone. I would [be] thrilled, for example, if someone approached us about a fundraiser to support the fallen on all sides of any conflict.
I completely understand if you aren’t willing or able to agree with our participation in this fundraiser, even if that means no longer considering yourself a “fan” of our organization—and if that is so, I truly apologize because I understand where you’re coming from. But I hope that you will try to understand that our goal is to support those in need, and NOT to provide ammunition for the political and social battles that we are all facing. This has been a difficult issue for us as we walk a thin line. Ultimately, however, I’m comfortable with the decision to support an organization that helps those in need, and I will continue to seek opportunities for the Staten Island Yankees to do so in the future.
It wasn’t just the Root’s reader who was upset by the Blue Lives Matter event. The New York Daily News reported Eric Garner’s daughter was enraged by the team’s decision to host Blue Lives Matter because it took place in the same borough where NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo applied the chokehold that killed her father.
“This is disgusting!!!” Erica Snipes wrote on Twitter. “My father was killed not far from this event.”
“It sucks its a constant reminder of how staten island killed my dad,” she also tweeted.
The complaints about the Blue Lives Matter event didn’t change the Staten Island Yankees’ attitude toward police officers or its promotional schedule.
Law Enforcement Appreciation Night and Blue Lives Matter Night were followed by NYPD Appreciation Night on Aug, 14 “as we recognize our hard working police officers who save lives everyday!”