'We Need Help': NCCU Coach LeVelle Moton Talks About Police Brutality

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(Dyann Busse)
(Dyann Busse)

George Floyd's funeral was held this week in Houston. He was remembered as a father, a brother, a mentor and an athlete. Cyril White recruited Floyd to play on his exhibition basketball team in the late '90s. He spoke at the funeral:

"The coaches would ask me, 'Who's your big man?' And I would say, 'George Floyd.' They'd say, "Oh, you got Big Floyd? OK. Your team must be pretty good.' " 

Floyd played college basketball at what was then known as South Florida Community College. And his death at the hands of police has inspired a loud response from the sports world.

Last week, North Carolina Central University head men's basketball coach LeVelle Moton called out college coaches who make millions a year off the talents of young, mostly Black, athletes and yet don't speak up against racism and police brutality. On ESPN Radio, he said ...

"It's not the blatant racism that we can't deal with. That's easily identifiable. But it's the guys that's pretending to say they love and care for us that's not speaking up on our behalf. That's the danger." 

Moton's perspective wasn't born of recent news. It's the product of a lifetime of experiences. He joined us this week on Only A Game.

KG: So I'd like you to start with the first time you had a negative interaction with the police. 

LM: You guys are in Boston, correct?

KG: Yes. 

LM: Well, I grew up in a Roxbury in a housing project called "Orchard Park." And at an early age, my mom migrated down to Raleigh, North Carolina. So, I would say my first instance was: I was 12-years-old. Back then, I wanted to go on AAU trips. And, in order to fund my AAU trips, I would always go sell magazine subscriptions. So I knew to go to the affluent neighborhoods.

And this particular day, I'm coming back. And I had a good day. I'm selling magazine subscriptions and everything. And, as I'm walking back home, I'm counting my money. And a cop — he's probably driving three, four miles an hour while I'm walking. And the first thing he says is, "Boy, where did you get the money from?" He rolled down his window, and I didn't answer. Because, you know, at that age — and even now — I'm nobody's "boy." Like, I just thought it had a negative connotation to it.

And as I continued to walk, he continued to drive. He said, "Boy, did you hear what I said? Where did you get that money from? That's crack money, ain't it?" And I said, "No. this ain't no crack money. It's magazine subscription money." And I knew no 12-year-old tells a cop that it's magazine subscription money. So he cut me off. He got out of the car and made me spreadeagle. And he's checking my pockets. And I think he was checking for drugs, you know, crack. Because this was the inception of the crack era. Right? So this is the mid-'80s that I'm telling you about.

And he reached in my back pocket. He took my money, and then he took the rest of it out of my hand. And I remember going home, and I was crying to my mom. And I wasn't crying because I was violated by him. I was more so crying because I didn't think I would be able to go on my AAU trip, simply because he took my money.

KG: All right, so let's fast forward about 20 years to 2005. You were in Raleigh and in a car with Raymond Felton. And, just a few months before this incident, Felton had helped to lead UNC to an NCAA title. 

KG: Can you describe what happened that night? 

LM: I have a black Yukon Denali, and the windows are kinda tinted. And I'm in my old neighborhood, and I was coming from visiting some friends. And I'm on the phone with my mom. And I see in my rear view, a car following me, a cop car. And I say, "Mom, I'll call you back, because I'm being followed, and I know I'm about to be pulled [over]." And she said, "No, you stay on the phone with me." Because I knew what was about to happen, and I didn't want her to have to live any of that.

So, he put his lights on, and I pull over. And I instantly put my phone on speaker, because I knew it was about to be something. Because I wasn't speeding. I wasn't doing anything wrong. I was just driving.

So by the time I put it in park, you know, [the cop] rushes up to the door and tries to yank me out the door. I don't go all the way because I still have my seatbelt on. So I unclick my seat belt, and then he yanks me out the car. And when he yanks me out the car, his backup partner has a gun to my head. And [he] said, "Turn your Black ass around."

So I turn around, and I got my hands on the car. And I'm, like, "Like, you know, what are you all doing?" Mind you, it's no protocols. No routine, no driver's license, no registration, like, none at stuff. They just went straight from zero to 100. And so the initial officer is kicking my ankles, trying to get me to spread my legs open. And he's touching my pockets. He was like, "You got dope in that car. You got dope in that car. Huh? Y'all dope boys? You dope boys?" And it was a rather nice truck at the time. And I was like, "No, we ain't no dope boys." He's like, "Let me search the truck." I said, "You're not searching my truck. What are you talking about?"

So, each time I turn around to address him — because he's talking to me, he's asking me questions— his partner brings the gun closer and closer to my head. So my mom is panicking, and she's going crazy on the phone. And he cuffed me. He took me by my head, led me to the back of the truck and slammed me down on the ground. And now I'm sitting down. But mind you, I have on all white, and it's raining outside. Right? And each time he's asking me to still search my console and so forth, he's deliberately, like, kicking mud and residue on me, just basically trying to humiliate me as he asked me a question, and so on and so forth.

"We need help. Any time there's been a change on behalf of Black people and people of color, a lot of people on the front lines that was leading that fight didn't look like us."

LeVelle Moton

So, his backup comes. And when his backup arrives, he pulls up to the curb, and he's probably five feet away from me. And he got out of the car, and he's got his gun drawn, because he sees his partner's gun drawn. And so the backup officer had a partner with him. And he got out the car as well, and he's starting to look at me with a sense of familiarity. Right? And so they go huddle up. And I know they're talking about me, because they are looking back at me.

And he comes over. He says, "Man, what is your name?" I say, "LeVelle Moton, man." He said, "Man, I thought that was you. I said, "I've been trying to tell them that." So he goes back over there, they huddle up. And the guy, the initial officer, came back and said, "Let me see your driver's license and registration." I said, "You're supposed to ask that initially. I'm not reaching in this car for you to have a built in excuse to kill me." I said, "No. I'll tell you my driver's license number." I memorized my driver's license number ever since I was 15 years old. Right?

And so I told him that. And he [went] back, and he [got] in the car, I guess. And he runs license plates, and so on and so forth. And by this time, Raymond, they still don't even know Raymond is in the car at this time. Right? This is the craziest thing. So he rolls down the window. And he said, "Just calm down." And so now they're running up to the passenger side with their hand on their gun[s], because he scared them. And, when they went up to his side, they recognized him. And, down here, every basketball player in North Carolina, Duke and NC State is highly recognizable. Right? And they recognize Raymond. Then it's like, "Yo, this is Raymond Felton."

So, again, they huddled up. And the officer came up, and he extended his hand, said, "Man, um, I want to apologize." He said, "We got a call, that y'all fit the description." So I just sat there, and he uncuffed me. They eventually let us go. And my mom was crying. And I remember, like, that it's the first time I felt less than a man — when I was a grown man — at the hands of another man. It was almost like all of the stories my grandfathers and my great uncles and all the elders in my neighborhood always told me. I instantly became one of them. I wasn't any different. I had the same experience to share.

KG: So I want to go back for just a second. Can you explain how it is that you came to memorize your driver's license number? Because it never would occur to me to do that. 

LM: Yeah, well, it's common practice, you know, where I'm from. We call them "OG's." There's older gentleman, and they're mentors. I had my permit, and one them was helping me, teaching me how to drive. And he said, "Look, always remember your driver's license number. Because there will come a time when you will be pulled [over] by law enforcement. And you don't need anyone saying they have probable cause to shoot or do any physical damage to you because they believed you are reaching for a gun or some kind of weapon."

KG: You coach at North Carolina Central, which is a historically Black college. And as I understand it, you have these sorts of conversations with them. 

LM: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Like, it's my moral obligation, because one day the ball is gonna stop bouncing. And, as a head coach, it's my job to prepare you for what awaits you. And that's the real world.

KG: And you actually practice what you should do when you get pulled over by a cop? 

LM: Yeah. I'm a teacher at heart. So a lot of people don't know I was a public school educator for six years. So everything is a lesson plan to me. And so I have fun with it. You know, in terms of being creative and teaching them the principles of manhood. But also how to conduct themselves in the world and how situations and scenarios will arise with them, whether they like it or not. And they have a responsibility in it as well. So I tell them, "Memorize your driver's license number. Ask two times before [a police officer] asks you to reach for your registration, or whatever it is. Ask for permission two times. Always address him as 'sir,' regardless of his tone. So he knows he can't ever use against you that you're being vocal and, you know, antagonizing and things of that nature."

(Dyann Busse)
(Dyann Busse)

KG: What's it like to have to have those conversations? Those can't be joyful or fun conversations to have. 

LM: Yeah. But it's normal. It's our normal everyday existence. Right? It's who we are. And, unfortunately, it's the harsh realities of this world and what not only myself, but many people of color have to deal with, you know, both male and female. Now I have to pull my seven-year-old and 11-year-old to the side and inform them, "Look, yeah, this is an rated-R video, but you've got to watch it. Because this is what you have to, unfortunately, you know, deal with."

So, to answer the question, it's become a sense of normalcy. It's who we are. It's our makeup, it's our DNA. It's one of the many obstacles that we face as black men, as we go out and try to thrive in this world on a day-to-day basis.

KG: You called on college coaches to speak out against racism and police brutality.

KG: Many of them did — if you consider carefully-worded Twitter posts to be an acceptable form of speaking out. What needs to happen next?

LM: Unity. Let's be honest. It's been a systemic issue in this country for 400 years with people of color. And so it's not Black people's job to solve a problem that they never created in the first place. Because if they could solve it, you know, they would've solved it 400 years ago, I'm sure. Right?

My grandfather and his great-grandfather or father would have solved that problem. So we need help. And any time there's been a change on behalf of Black people and people of color, a lot of people on the front lines that was leading that fight didn't look like us. So we need that, right? And we need everyone to show up in a unified front.

And I think that's the beautiful thing about the protests, it's so diverse. It's not just us. People are starting to feel and empathize with what we've been experiencing throughout our entire lives.

LeVelle Moton is the head men's basketball coach at North Carolina Central University. 

This segment aired on June 13, 2020.


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Karen Given Executive Producer/Interim Host, Only A Game
Karen is the executive producer for WBUR's Only A Game.



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