Gun violence and Alabama basketball: the dangerous intersection of talent and ethics


Jamia Harris booked a weekend off in Jan. to spend with her cousin, a student at the University of Alabama, and her boyfriend. When Harris was headed home in her black Jeep, she stopped for a late-night bite at a greasy spoon restaurant next to the Alabama football stadium. According to Harris’ mother and cousin, the trio were waiting on their food when two men approached, seeking Harris’ attention. The more they refused to take no for an answer, the more the tension seemed to rise. Harris and her companions were reportedly blocked in by two cars and fired upon by one of the men who had approached her. Harris’ boyfriend shot back with his own firearms and hit the group twice. He then attempted to escort the group to safety. Harris was the only person who did not survive the exchange. Her death may have been ruled as another inevitable statistic in the story of nationwide gun violence, but police identified members of Alabama’s star basketball team as being involved. 

One of the shooters was identified by police as Darius Miles, a lightly used junior player for Alabama. He was arrested on capital murder charges, and removed from the team. Investigators testified in a pre-trial hearing that the gun belonged to Miles and that he had sent word via text to have it brought to him. Importantly, the alleged courier was Brandon Miller, Alabama’s first-year hoops phenomenon. Since no one was able to prove that he knew about the gun in the car, Miller is facing no criminal charges and remains on the basketball team. Alabama did kick Miles off the team as soon as his name became associated with the case — the difference is that Alabama may argue that Miles has been charged with a crime, and Miller has not. However, I can’t help to point out that the biggest difference in Alabama’s handling of Miles over Miller’s situation is talent.

Whether Alabama is keeping Miller on the team because of his star power isn’t clear, but from the outside in, it certainly looks that way. So far, the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference have maintained a deafening silence on the matter. In a statement before the March 1 tipoff, the athletics department described him not as a suspect, but as a “cooperative witness.”

This brings up numerous questions about the power imbalances of an athlete being backed by a massive sports school like Alabama in a gun violence case. Miller undoubtedly would have the resources to get off scot free. Is that fair? I don’t think it is. A young woman has been killed, and these young men are clearly complicit in her murder. There is an even bigger question of how gun control laws should be adapted to avoid situations like this. Letting big stars avoid the consequences of this crime may harm the ability of lawmakers to pass laws to prevent them in the future. Crafting legislation for situations like this is fighting a battle against power and money, both at Alabama and any NBA team that may draft Miller. This is clearly an incident with many worrisome qualities, and hopefully it will not be forgotten. It’s cases like these and their implications that will challenge us if we are to strive for safer gun control measures in the United States.

Alli is from Apple Valley, Minn.

Her major is social studies education.

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