Tennis star Naomi Osaka has worn a different face mask for every round she has played in the US Open. These masks have each had the name of a Black person who has been killed, largely at the hands of police, printed on the front.
Osaka has worn five masks so far but recently told reporters that she has seven altogether.
“It’s quite sad that seven masks isn’t enough for the amount of names, so hopefully, I’ll get to the finals and you can see all of them,” Osaka said.
Round 1 — Breonna Taylor
In the first round, Osaka wore a face mask with Breonna Taylor’s name written on the front. Taylor was a 26-year-old emergency room technician who was killed just after midnight on March 13, 2020, by police in Louisville, Kentucky.
The police had a signed warrant to search Taylor’s home as part of an investigation into two men who police believed were “selling drugs out of a house that was far from Ms. Taylor’s home,” The New York Times wrote.
After the three police officers — Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove — broke the door off its hinges, Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker fired his gun once. The three officers responded by firing several shots, with Hankison firing 10 blind shots into the apartment. Five hit Taylor and she died shortly after.
Hankison has since been fired from the Louisville Metro Police Department, while Mattingly and Cosgrove are on administrative leave. None of the officers have been charged for Taylor’s death.
Round 2 — Elijah McClain
The second mask worn by Osaka was to honour Elijah McClain. “I still don’t think his name is very put out there compared to George Floyd or Breonna Taylor,” Osaka said. “For me, today was very special in the way that I wanted to represent him very well.”
McClain was 23-years-old when he was killed by police offers in Aurora, Colorado in August 2019. According to The Cut, the Aurora Police Department confronted McClain as he walked home from a convenience store as someone had reported a “suspicious person” wearing a ski mask.
Officers claim that McClain “resisted arrest”, so they tackled him to the ground and used a carotid hold — a move that restricts blood flow from the brain and causes the person to become unconscious. When first responders arrived 15 minutes later, they injected McClain with the sedative ketamine. McClain had a heart attacked on the way to the hospital and died a few days later.
Round 3 — Ahmaud Arbery
In the third round, Osaka donned a mask with Ahmaud Arbery’s name on the front. 25-year-old Arbery was shot and killed by two white men in Brunswick, Georgia on February 23, 2020. Gregory McMichael and his son Travis killed Arbery while he was jogging near his home.
A video of the killing emerged in May, prompting an enormous backlash over the fact that the father and son had not yet been arrested for Arbery’s murder. The duo has since been arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault, according to The New York Times.
Round 4 — Trayvon Martin
The fourth round saw Osaka wear a mask with 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s name printed on it. Osaka took to Instagram to honour Martin, writing that she remembers his death clearly.
“I remember being a kid and just feeling scared, irreverent info but I actually didn’t wear hoodies for years cause I wanted to decrease the odds of “looking suspicious”,” Osaka wrote.
“I know his death wasn’t the first, but for me it was the one that opened my eyes to what was going on. I remember watching the events unfold on tv and wondering what was taking so long, why was justice not being served. To see the same things happening over and over still is sad. Things have to change.”
On February 26, 2012, a man called George Zimmerman, who was the caption of the neighbourhood watch in Sanford, Florida, called police to report “a suspicious person”. Zimmerman was instructed not to leave his car by the police but he ignored this instruction. After an altercation with Martin, Zimmerman fatally shot him.
Round 5 — George Floyd
As Osaka entered the court for her fifth match, she was wearing a mask with the name George Floyd on it. Floyd was the 46-year-old man who was killed at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25.
After being handcuffed, Floyd was pinned to the ground and white officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd’s neck, despite Floyd telling the officer that he couldn’t breathe. Floyd’s death brought about a wave of Black Lives Matter protests around the world and reignited a global conversation about systemic racism.