NBA Hall of Famer and  Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaks onstage during the 2016 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
CNN  — 

Thousands of Americans took to the streets this weekend in nationwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, but millions more sat at home, watching the protests unravel on their TVs.

A glance at Twitter and other social media will show varying opinions on the protests, with many focused on protesters’ supposed disregard for social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic, as well as some on the looting and violence.

But Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar defended the protests in a powerful op-ed for the Los Angeles Times on Saturday, writing that while he doesn’t want to see stores looted or buildings burned, the protests are the result of what happens when black Americans have been pushed to their tipping point.

“African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible – even if you’re choking on it – until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote.

Those who criticize the looting and fires, saying that those actions are hurting the protesters’ cause aren’t wrong, but they’re not right, either, the former Lakers star said.

“The black community is used to the institutional racism inherent in education, the justice system and jobs. And even though we do all the conventional things to raise public and political awareness – write articulate and insightful pieces in the Atlantic, explain the continued devastation on CNN, support candidates who promise change – the needle hardly budges …

“So, maybe the black community’s main concern right now isn’t whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19,” he wrote.

Pointing to the disproportionate rate at which African Americans are dying from Covid-19 compared to whites and President Trump’s recent tweet saying, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Abdul-Jabbar said that black protesters represent a community “pushed to the edge, not because they want bars and nail salons open, but because they want to live. To breathe.”

Abdul-Jabbar, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2016, closed his op-ed by saying:

“So what you see when you see black protesters depends on whether you’re living in that burning building or watching it on TV with a bowl of corn chips in your lap waiting for ‘NCIS’ to start.

“What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice.”