Garrett Temple was house hunting in Sacramento last month when it began to rain in his hometown of Baton Rouge, La. For two days and two nights it didn’t stop – 25 inches in a storm that killed 13 people, damaged 55,000 homes and 6,000 businesses and caused $9 billion in damage.
Biblical, is the way Temple saw it, and the 30-year-old point guard, who joined the Kings in the offseason, flew home as soon as he could.
“It was a tough situation,” Temple said. “I go home and I see 6 feet of water still in the streets in some areas. Still in people’s homes. I see cars under water.”
The Alton Sterling shooting, the police officer shootings, it was dividing our community, just like the situation was dividing the community of America. But this flood didn’t just hit the white community, or the black community, or just the rich community, or just the poor community. I think this will bring people together and show how resilient Baton Rouge can be.
Kings guard Garrett Temple
The first thing the six-year NBA veteran out of LSU did was open his home to a friend whose family had been left homeless. Suddenly, he had eight new roommates.
When the floods receded, he went shopping to help stock shelters with blankets and clothing. He helped people he didn’t know clear debris from their homes. He sandbagged a friend’s house when the bayou began to rise again. He gave money to assorted Go Fund Me accounts, and he helped talk the National Basketball Players Association into putting $15,000 into flood relief. He teamed up with his brother to hold a back-to-school day for flooded-out kids who needed supplies and maybe a haircut to start the school year looking good.
The flooding came about one month after some of the worst violence to shake Baton Rouge in Temple’s lifetime. First, there was the July 5 police shooting of Alton Sterling, 37, in front of a convenience store. You’ve probably seen the video. You’re also probably aware of what happened 12 days later, when three Baton Rouge police officers, responding to a call of a man with a gun, were shot and killed by him.
It all happened in a tight time frame for Temple, an African American who knows the back story of racial hostility and poor police-community relations.
Amid the disaster of the floods, Temple saw a chance for reconciliation.
“The Alton Sterling shooting, the police officer shootings, it was dividing our community, just like the situation was dividing the community of America,” Temple said. “But this flood didn’t just hit the white community, or the black community, or just the rich community, or just the poor community. I think this will bring people together and show how resilient Baton Rouge can be. What this will do is allow the city that was being so divided to come together for one cause and become stronger.”
Fast forward to last Friday in Mobile, Ala.
A panel on the issue of police community relations included the city’s assistant police chief, Lawrence Battiste, the Mobile city attorney, the head of the University of South Alabama’s office of multicultural affairs, and a man who had been convicted of a drug murder but who apparently turned his life around in prison and works as a community activist.
They were at a high school where about 100 kids who love basketball listened with their parents; they asked questions and learned a few things that may save their lives.
The person who made it all happen? Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, who included the discussion as part of the basketball camp he hosted.
13 Death toll from flooding in Baton Rouge, La., Garrett Temple’s hometown
During training camp for the Olympics over the summer, Cousins attended a similar session pulled together by Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks. The gathering came less than two weeks after the killing of five police officers in Dallas during a street protest over the fatal cop shootings in Baton Rouge and St. Paul, Minn.
Battiste called the Mobile event organized by Cousins “real positive.”
In a city of 195,000, where half the population is black and two-thirds of the police department is white, Battiste said police-community relations are like that of most every city of any size in the country, unsettled by an undercurrent of racial tension. Young people at the forum complained about the way some cops communicated to them. Battiste told them how to file citizen complaints. He also told them how to act if and when they get pulled over – mainly to keep their hands in the officer’s view and do what they are told.
According to Battiste, Cousins didn’t try to softball his youthful and sometimes tense interactions with police. But when somebody asked him what he might do different these days, “He said, ‘I’d probably pay more attention to what I was being told by adults and not be as hardheaded as I was when I was younger,’ ” Battiste said.
We’ve all seen and heard 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests and his opinions on police shootings. You can say or think what you want about them or him, but there are athletes who stand up and do real stuff. When it comes to helping people and saving lives, what they do matters a whole lot more than taking a seat.