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Warrick Dunn knows the pain for families, slain officers and victims

Ex-NFL player’s mother, Baton Rouge officer Betty Smothers, was killed when he was 18

Atlanta Falcons minority owner Warrick Dunn found himself dealing with a ball of emotions when he learned of the police shootings in his hometown on Sunday.

Dunn’s mother, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police officer, was shot and killed when he was an 18-year-old high school senior. So he can relate to the families of the three officers killed in an ambush in Baton Rouge.

Dunn’s mother, Betty Smothers, was gunned down when she was escorting a grocer to make a deposit at a bank. Her murderer, Kevan Brumfield, was sentenced to be executed in Louisiana, but still sits on death row. A recent report by The Times-Picayune newspaper said that “a Supreme Court ruling that was issued could result in Kevan Brumfield avoiding the death penalty and being declared mentally disabled. A 2002 Supreme Court ruling declared that it is unconstitutional to execute convicted felons who have been determined by the court to be ‘mentally retarded.’ ”

Dunn joined SportsCenter on Monday and explained how the community embraced his family after his mother was murdered in 1993 while off duty, and says his heart goes out to the families of the officers who were killed. He also gave a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

My heart breaks for the families and law enforcement officers in Baton Rouge who have lost loved ones. I have been in similar shoes – it will change their lives and leave them reeling with questions for years to come. It is a shame – so many officers who are out there on the front lines have tremendous heart for what they do. These acts of violence don’t solve anything and if my voice can add to the movement to stop it – then I’d consider that a good thing. I struggle emotionally to understand why and how police officers are being targeted in the way they are.”

 

The reality of our world is that there is a lot of unrest in our communities, particularly where police shootings are happening. It takes me back, of course, to when my black mother was ambushed and killed – by a black man. And all of this comes at a terribly personal time for me. Next week, I will attend trial for a re-sentencing hearing for my mother’s murder which happened 23 years ago. I hate to even think of what this entire ordeal will cost our community, but I know – it is too much. And even though my Mother lost her life all those years ago, the men who were tried by a jury of their peers have been kept alive by a prison system that has seen to their every need. Something that was denied to my Mother.

 

We can’t just sit around and talk about how horrible all this is – we have to do something. And that means it ALWAYS starts with the individual.

 

One of the things I am doing is taking the role of fatherhood very seriously so I can raise a son who makes a positive contribution. I am striving to be there for him emotionally, physically and intellectually. I want to give him something I never had because the statistics proves it makes a difference when a child has an active father in his or her life. And we have to do more to build empathy in children so they have a hard time treating one another badly. It all starts with kids, so we all have to care about kids. Especially kids at risk for never learning how to socially and emotionally relate.

 

Another thing we can all do is stress to our elected leaders that we have to look at the issue of guns in our country with serious eyes and intent instead of (through) the prism of a political stand-off. And then we have to give justice a chance to work. When people are intentional about their use of guns against others – we have to make sure the message that crime doesn’t pay means something. Today, I wonder about that because from my view with my Mother’s trial, justice has failed our family, but I believe we can and must do better.

 

We also have to challenge the status quo and ensuring that the laws on the books are enforced. Of course, I know there are officers who do not do the right thing – that is true in every profession. But when murder is a planned event – the rule of law should matter and loopholes or sophisticated lawyering have to stop. Why have laws if we aren’t going to enforce them?

 

I feel close to this subject – it has touched me very personally. I speak for no one other than myself and I support law enforcement. I also support the community of Baton Rouge because they were there for me and my family. If I could have any effect, I’d ask the community to stop the violence, to cool down and to come together to figure this out. There is nothing we can’t do, but we have to work together to make something positive come from yet another tragedy in my hometown.

Back in 2008, Dunn made a visit to see Brumfield in prison. Brumfield told Dunn he didn’t kill his mother and in his memoir, Running for My Life, Dunn wrote, “Finally, after listening to Brumfield for a while longer, I decided I just wanted to tell him about what that night did to me and how that night changed my life. I wanted him to know that I used to play football with passion and emotion. I still play with the passion for the game, but I no longer play the game with emotion because the night Mom was murdered took all the emotion from me.”

Dunn was a star running back at Florida State and played in the NFL from 1997 to 2008. He played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1997-2001 before playing six seasons with the Falcons. He finished his career with Tampa Bay in 2008.

Since his retirement, Dunn has worked to make a difference in the lives of others by giving them the opportunity to secure a home, a program he started when he was still playing in the NFL.

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.