Mercury’s Skylar Diggins-Smith wants alleged attempted lynching prosecuted as hate crime

2:47 PM ET

Eric WoodyardESPN

When WNBA action resumes in Florida on July 25, women will dedicate the opening weekend to the Black Lives Matter movement. However, Phoenix Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith isn’t waiting until then to use her platform for social and racial justice.

The four-time WNBA All-Star, along with hip-hop star Yo Gotti, wrote and sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr Tuesday, urging him to investigate and prosecute the alleged attempted lynching of Vauhxx Rush Booker in Indiana on July 4 as a federal hate crime.

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On Friday, July 17, charges were filed by Indiana prosecutors against Sean Purdy and Jerry Cox after footage surfaced of them allegedly assaulting Booker at a lake. Both men were caught on film pinning him to a tree and pulling his arm while threatening to get a noose and shouting racial slurs. They are facing battery, confinement and intimidation charges.

“Authorities all too often think of hate crimes as purely local events. The impact of hate falls most heavily on the local community, true, but especially with a notorious case such as this one, hate crime has much broader consequences,” Diggins-Smith and Yo Gotti wrote in a letter obtained by ESPN. “A violent, racist attack such as this, additionally, is a federal crime. Because of this, the attempted lynching of Mr. Booker is not beneath your office’s notice. The opposite is true: the nationally-reported attempted lynching of a civil rights activist demands your attention and your full efforts to guarantee that justice is done, by prosecuting the people who attacked Vauhxx Booker for their violent hate crime, and all other charges that apply. This crime fits the language of the statute precisely, as prosecution for it is ‘in the public interest and necessary to secure substantial justice.’

“Now more than ever, it is crucial that federal law enforcement entities show that they take racism seriously, and stand on the same side as the Black Americans who face it every single day. Americans are watching: only bringing the attackers to justice will honor their trust.”

Gotti and Diggins-Smith also collaborated with Team ROC — the social justice arm of JAY-Z’s Roc Nation — to secure powerhouse attorneys Joe Tacopina and Jordan Siev to assist Booker’s local attorney. Tacopina has represented rapper Meek Mill and baseball star Alex Rodriguez in cases, and Siev has worked with Gotti and JAY-Z on their ongoing lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Corrections regarding inhumane treatment at Parchman prison.

Booker’s story resonated deeply with Diggins-Smith, who is a native of South Bend, Indiana. Meanwhile, Gotti wanted to continue to use his voice and platform to advocate for social justice.

Diggins-Smith, 29, missed the last season on pregnancy leave, while still with the Dallas Wings, but is currently in WNBA bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. She initially admitted to feeling “conflicted about being here,” but added she was “happy to be on this team.”

The WNBA has pledged to honor victims of police brutality and racial violence when all 12 teams resume action later this month.

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