“Race has nothing to do with this,” New York police commissioner William Bratton says, but that may be a tough sell. US tennis star James Blake, once ranked #4 in the world, found himself treated like Public Enemy Number One outside a Big Apple high-rise hotel. Undercover police investigating credit-card fraud tackled Blake and cuffed him, and didn’t release him until a retired cop recognized the athlete:
Retired black tennis star James Blake, in an NYPD double-fault, was slammed to a Manhattan sidewalk and handcuffed by a white cop in a brutal case of mistaken identity.
The 35-year-old Blake, once ranked No. 4 in the world, suffered a cut to his left elbow and bruises to his left leg as five plainclothes cops eventually held him for 15 minutes Wednesday outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel.
“It was definitely scary and definitely crazy,” Blake told the Daily News. “In my mind there’s probably a race factor involved, but no matter what there’s no reason for anybody to do that to anybody.”
Blake, on his way to make a corporate appearance for Time Warner Cable at the U.S. Open, said none of white cops identified themselves, including the officer who charged straight at him and bounced him off the E. 42nd St. concrete around noon.
“Don’t say a word,” snapped the officer, who Blake said was not wearing a badge. …
The unidentified officer picked Blake up, threw the 6-foot-1 player down on the sidewalk and commanded him to roll over facedown.
Um … this is how police in New York detain suspects in credit-card fraud cases? Doesn’t that seem a bit excessive? Bratton has ordered an investigation into the use of force, but insists that Blake’s race had nothing to do with it. The actual suspect looked like Blake’s “twin,” Bratton says, and this is just an unfortunate but benign case of mistaken identity. That may very well be true, but even so, wouldn’t it have been better to have the police approach the suspect and ask for his identification before tackling and handcuffing him?
Blake talked about his experience on Good Morning America:
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Blake told Good Morning America earlier today that the first person he called after the incident was his wife, Emily.
“She said, ‘What if this happened to me?’ Blake told GMA today, of Emily. “Immediately, I was furious because I thought about what I would be thinking if someone did that to my wife, if someone tackled her in broad daylight, paraded her around in a busy, crowded sidewalk in New York City with handcuffs with her cuffed behind her back, and taking away her dignity. I couldn’t accept that.”
Bratton tried reaching out to Blake for a personal apology, but instead offered it publicly:
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The NYPD may insist that race had nothing to do with this, but after the Eric Garner death — which cost the city millions in a wrongful-death settlement — not too many people are going to buy this. An investigation into illegal cigarette sales turned into a chokehold death in that case, and now they’ve assaulted a prominent African-American athlete for a credit-card fraud probe — hardly an imminent threat to public safety. That certainly looks suspicious, especially when the arresting officers didn’t take any immediate action to determine his identity even after they tackled Blake.
Blake graciously notes that “the vast majority of police are doing a great job out there,” but a few of them need to be held accountable. It’s a point Jerry Bader makes at Right Wisconsin today, too. All sides need to work together to acknowledge their shortcomings in these violent confrontations, and that means no one can “go first” to resolve the issue:
A black columnist writing in the Washington Post recently compared the lawlessness on D.C.’s city streets to the Wild West. He recounted how one bus route was briefly discontinued because of danger in its path. He said the answer isn’t more cops; the black community must recognize that reducing crime in its ranks must start at home. He’s right. Preconceptions will flourish when a large group of any population lives up to that preconception. This crime has become less organized and more random and wanton. And the white community and law enforcement need to show real concern for the inner city carnage beyond a talking point or only when the violence reaches their neighborhoods.
Law enforcement has to accept that standards to operate in such an atmosphere need to be exceedingly high; higher than they are now. Yes, the Michael Brown “hands up don’t shoot” narrative was a lie. And building a movement on a false martyr doomed it from the start because it had no credibility and allowed it to be hijacked in the way in which it has been. And it’s time for the larger black community to accept that this movement is illegitimate and has been hijacked by groups with either irrelevant or dishonorable intentions. But we’ve all seen the You Tube videos of officers responding to blacks in a way that makes it clear they never should have been given a badge and a gun. As long as law abiding blacks can feel the eyes of law enforcement on them in a way white people will never know, the tensions will persist and there will be those willing to exploit them until they boil over.
Just as there are bad actors in any community, there are bad cops. Law enforcement rank and file need to loudly reject the bad actors in their community and more importantly turn them in to authorities. And recent stories of an overtly racist police chief in a small Oregon town and a Klan member on a Louisiana police force might be dismissed by some as anecdotal, in the minds of many blacks they give credibility to the argument that the “small minority” of bad actors isn’t really that small at all.
Police work is dangerous, and those who do it well — as Blake says, the vast majority — are heroes who deserve our support. But abuse of government force has to be addressed swiftly and honestly, as does chronic lawlessness and violence, no matter whose community suffers from it, or we risk more than just a news cycle of debate and hard feelings.