The Los Angeles County sheriff on Monday challenged Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James to match $175,000 in reward money being offered for information on the gunman who ambushed and shot two LA deputies over the weekend. In an interview with KABC Radio, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said the reward money has reached $175,000, after two individuals donated $75,000 to add to the .
"This challenge is to LeBron James. I want you to match that and double that reward," Villanueva said. "I know you care about law enforcement. You expressed a very interesting statement about your perspective on race relations and on officer-involved shootings and the impact that it has on the African American community. And I appreciated that. But likewise, we need to appreciate that respect for life goes across professions, across races, creeds, and I'd like to see LeBron James step up to the plate and double that."
James, who has been vocal about police shootings involving Black people, had not publicly responded to the sheriff's challenge as of early Tuesday morning. Last month,after an officer shot Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, saying that Black people in America are "terrified."
"I know people get tired of hearing me say it but we are scared as a Black people in America," he said. "Black men, Black women, Black kids, we are terrified."
James has also repeatedlya 26-year-old EMT who was shot and killed when officers entered her apartment with a no-knock warrant in March.
Villanueva's challenge to James came after thewho were in their parked police vehicle when a man walked up to the passenger's side and fired multiple rounds. The deputies were struck in the head and critically wounded but both are expected to recover, Villanueva said. The gunman hasn't been captured and a motive has not been determined.
The shooting occurred in Compton, one of the communities near South Los Angeles, an area with a large Black population that has long been a flashpoint for racial tension and mistrust of police. Hundreds marched Saturday to the Sheriff's Department South LA station to protest the fatal shootings of a Black man on August 31 and a Black teenager in 2018.
Both were killed by deputies from the station, which is about 6 miles from where the deputies were targeted Saturday. After that shooting, a handful of protesters gathered outside the hospital where the deputies were treated and tried to block the emergency room entrance. Videos from the scene recorded protesters shouting expletives at police and at least one yell "I hope they ... die."
In an interview with the AP, Villanueva said the angry rhetoric is making deputies' work more difficult.
"They're out there doing their job and yet we have people fanning the flames of hatred and just turning up the volume when we don't need it. We need to be turning it down," Villanueva said. "Particularly our elected officials and civic leaders and sports figures, they need to start emphasizing trust in the system, due process."
Villanueva did not specify any particular people but many politicians and athletes have harshly criticized police and called for defunding departments in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis after a white officer pressed a knee to his neck, and the shooting of Blake in Kenosha.
The NBA playoffs were delayed last month when James and other stars supported the Milwaukee Bucks' decision not to play following Blake's shooting. U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka of Japan wore masks with the names of Black victims of violence throughout the tennis tournament.
After 29-year-old Dijon Kizzee was killed by two LA County deputies last month, U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, a Democrat who represents part of South Los Angeles, said "while we don't know all of the details of this incident" she shares the community's outrage and that the message from police killings is "the lives of people of color do not matter and that the practice is to shoot first and ask questions later."
She said the Sheriff's Department is out of control and called on state Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate "the pattern of abuses."
The department has begun its own investigation of allegations that a renegade group of deputies calling themselves The Executioner s have taken control of the Compton station through threats, intimidation and harassment.
Ron Hernandez, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, said his organization is open to overall reform — he disputed any claims of renegade groups of deputies — but Saturday's shooting could never be justified as part of potential anti-police rhetoric.
"When you're sitting there doing paperwork and providing safety for the community, and somebody from the public comes out and ambushes you and tries to kill you, there's no valid explanation for that," he said during a Monday news conference outside the hospital. "I don't care how angry the public, I don't care how angry even the people that might protest are. That's not going to resolve anything."
Villanueva criticized elected officials, sports figures and civic leaders for "fanning the flames of hatred" as America grapples with racism and police brutality, saying they instead should emphasize trust in the criminal justice system.
Villanueva also rejected claims the criminal justice system is biased against people of color, saying his department is committed to thorough investigations, including of its own employees.
"To someone who says they're biased, the only bias we have is toward facts," he said. "We need to stop the false narratives. We have to let the system take its course and justice has to be based on facts, based on evidence. It has to be right."
Villanueva said the department's investigations into police shootings like Kizzee's take time.
"We're not going to speed up or slow down at the behest of anybody," he said. "It's going to be based on fact, not on emotion. Some people already have determined the results, so they're trying to throw rocks at the process."
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