DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Sports Writer
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Sheldon Richardson felt helpless as he watched the scenes near his hometown unfold on TV and social media.
The New York Jets defensive tackle was born and raised in St. Louis, just a few minutes away from the suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, where police officer Darren Wilson was not indicted by a grand jury last week in the shooting death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9.
Protests, looting and burning buildings followed, and Richardson couldn’t do a thing about it.
“Destroying Ferguson was not what I wanted to come from the verdict of the grand jury,” Richardson said Thursday. “I actually wanted my whole city to stay intact and I don’t think we’ll bounce back from that. Well, the area of Ferguson, anyway. That’s just how I feel about it. I just want my hometown to stay as peaceful as possible, but I don’t blame them.
“I know where they’re coming from and I understand,” he added, “but that’s not the solution.”
Richardson found out about the ruling after the Jets lost 38-3 to the Buffalo Bills in Detroit on Nov. 24. He wrote that night on Twitter that he wasn’t a “happy camper” because of the game, and because “they let this pig get off.”
Last season’s AP Defensive Rookie of the Year reiterated his frustrations — along with his “pig” comment — in an interview with the New York Daily News published Wednesday night. He stood by them again in the Jets’ locker room after practice Thursday.
“Don’t get the word ‘pig’ wrong,” said Richardson, wearing a navy St. Louis Cardinals sweatshirt. “I mean, I meant that, but don’t take away from my message.”
And, that message is?
“A guy got murdered and a guy got off for it,” Richardson said. “It’s just that simple. It just happened out here in New York, too, so it’s not just in St. Louis. It’s pretty bad everywhere now. So much for the justice system.”
Richardson also clarified that his derogatory comment regarding police officers was not a blanket statement, but rather just aimed at Wilson.
“Hey, man, I’ve got friends who are cops,” Richardson said. “They laughed about it and said, ‘I can’t believe you actually said it, though.’ I was just referring to one guy. If you want to take it personal (or) make it personal, you know where I work at.”
Since his arrival last season as a first-round pick from the University of Missouri, Richardson has never been afraid to speak his mind.
“Why would I be? It’s just words, you know?” he said. “The actions are being done by the police officers, who I feel are doing wrong. You’re supposed to protect and serve, but you’re out killing people. And, I’m not even talking about Darren Wilson. That was with the cop in New York.”
Richardson was surprised to hear Wednesday that a grand jury cleared police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island. That decision also sparked demonstrations around the city and the rest of the country.
“That’s pretty much, as they say, a closed-and-shut case, isn’t it?” Richardson said. “A guy’s telling you he can’t breathe and he wasn’t doing anything. I saw the video and it’s pretty bad. It’s just the way it is, man.”
Richardson and some of his teammates have discussed the cases, and he said he respects both sides of the debate.
He also supported the five St. Louis Rams players who made the “Hands up. Don’t Shoot!” gesture before a game last Sunday that protesters in Ferguson have been using. Some witnesses said Brown, who is black, had his hands up before being shot by Wilson, who is white and told the grand jury that he shot Brown in self-defense.
“It just speaks volumes that somebody else was willing to do something, a peaceful protest, didn’t have to say anything. They just went out there and did it,” he said. “Everybody has their right to an opinion, and it’s my opinion. It’s up to you if you respect it or not, but just don’t disrespect me.”
Richardson was also adamant that his opinion of the Ferguson incident is not a racial issue.
“I’m not trying to make this a white or black thing,” he said. “Someone got murdered. It’s just that simple. Cold blood. There’s been a lot of victims or people who committed crimes that have been apprehended with guns in their hands.”
After the season, Richardson plans to help the people of his hometown rebound from the unrest while checking on his family regularly.
“I don’t know exactly what I need to do right now,” Richardson said, “but I need to do something when I get back home — positive.”
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