Taking His Shot at LeBron James Made the ‘TikTok Deputy’ $537,000 on GoFundMe and Ultimately Cost Him His Job
It’s Memorial Day weekend, and LeBron James remains immersed in the NBA playoffs. Meanwhile, the Idaho deputy marshal whose TikTok video mocking the Los Angeles Lakers star became an internet hit is out of a job.
Lest you think that James got the last laugh, just remember two things:
- James came out of the episode looking bad because of his own social-media faux pas.
- The law enforcement officer is walking away with a half-million-dollar gift from lots of average Americans wanting to make sure the NBA great knows he came out of the episode looking bad.
A LeBron James story inspired a lampooning video
Less than an hour before the Minneapolis jury returned a guilty verdict against Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd, a Columbus, Ohio, police officer fatally shot a Black teen who was a split-second from stabbing another Black teen.
Before details of the incident made it apparent that the shooting saved an innocent life, James assumed the worst. He tweeted a photo of the Columbus police officer to his 50 million followers, ominously adding “YOU’RE NEXT,” in apparent reference to the Chauvin verdict. The New York Post reported that 40,000 people retweeted the NBA star before James deleted the post.
At its worst, the tweet was an implied threat potentially placing the officer in danger. At the least, James had elected himself judge and jury — more than a little presumptuous for a man who’s never had to make a split-second decision more serious than whether to pass the ball or shoot.
Fed up, Bellevue, Idaho, deputy marshal Nate Silvester posted a TikTok video mocking James. In it, Silvester purports to be arriving on the scene of a call and asks his dispatcher to contact James to determine how to proceed.
“LeBron, hey, yeah it’s me again,” Silvester says in the satirical conversation. “Listen, I’m out here at this disturbance call and there’s a guy trying to stab another guy with a knife. What do you think I should do?”
“OK, well, they’re both Black. One guy is trying to stab another guy with a knife. Deadly force is completely justified.
“So, you don’t care if a Black person kills another Black person. But you do care if a white cop kills a Black person, even if he’s doing it to save the life of another Black person? I mean, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but then again, you’re really good at basketball. So, I guess I’ll take your word for it.”
A suspension and a GoFundMe drive
Newsweek reported that Silvester’s TikTok upload in late April quickly attracted millions of views. However, it also earned him an unpaid suspension pending a departmental investigation.
In turn, one of Silvester’s friends launched a GoFundMe.com campaign in support of the deputy. Gannon Ward asked people to donate because “apparently the town where he polices didn’t find his TikTok as amazingly comical, and accurate as the 4.5 million viewers did.”
In just days, contributions topped $350,000, attracting national news coverage. As of early on May 29, a little more than a month after the campaign started, people had contributed $537,000 despite a Change.org petition that asked GoFundMe administrators to deactivate the page and refund the money.
James’ antagonist lost his job
In a Facebook post on May 27, Bellevue mayor Ned Burns reported Silvester’s termination by his supervisor for “continued policy violations,” the Idaho Statesman reported. Burns stated that the deputy marshal violated “several” city and state policies on policing during the week of May 20 while working under a “last chance agreement” stemming from previous policy infractions.
Burns said the firing was unrelated to his TikTok videos, the latest of which comments on a shooting near George Floyd Square in Minneapolis on the first anniversary of Floyd’s killing. “I can’t think of a more fitting way to celebrate the memory of a career criminal than to have a shootout in the middle of a public street,” Silvester says on the video.
Still, the perceived cause/effect behind Burns’ announcement is difficult to ignore, and reader comments on the town’s Facebook page were running heavily against the mayor.