17 September 2015

Standing While Black: Apartheid Justice in America

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

If tennis great James Blake had done the obvious thing and resisted being tackled by an apparent thug on a New York sidewalk who didn’t identify himself as a cop before attacking him, he would probably be dead today like Eric Garner, or at least seriously injured or tased.

Blake, a well-known black athlete who not too long ago was the fourth-ranked tennis player in the world, was just leaning against the front of his hotel in midtown Manhattan when four undercover cops, who claim they “mistook” him for the suspect in an identity-theft scam, walked towards him, whereupon one of them suddenly jumped him, threw him to the ground face first, climbed on top of him, yanked his arms behind his back and cuffed him, in the process causing minor injuries to an elbow and eye (injuries that are no small matter for a tennis pro!).

There is so much wrong with what happened to Blake it’s hard to know where to begin. In a surveillance video, Blake can be seen just resting there on the sidewalk and actually smiling at the men approaching him, he says, because he assumed, as a celebrity, that they were fans who had recognized him and were coming to greet him. Blake, a Harvard grad, was calm and relaxed, not armed, and not at all acting like someone who planned to flee. There was, in other words, absolutely no reason for the officers not to simply identify themselves and ask politely to see his identification. Even then, if at that point they still suspected him, they could have taken him peacefully to the station for questioning, as they would ordinarily do had he been a well-dressed white guy, instead of a well-dressed black guy.

NYPD Chief Bill Bratton has apologized to Blake for the outrageous incident, as has Mayor Bill DeBlasio. At least one of the cops, who was particularly brutal on the video that captured the assault, has been pulled off the street and put on “administrative duties” by the chief, who said he was “disturbed” by the video. But Bratton insists that Blake is wrong to think that what happened to him had anything to do with his race, despite the fact that his assailants were all white.

Bratton certainly knows better. His statement that race wasn’t involved is laughable. He knows that the cop who tackled Blake instead of identifying himself a cop and asking politely for Blake’s identification has a history of complaints about abusive behavior — for which neither the cop nor Bratton has ever apologized. Want to guess the race of the victims of that abuse?