James Blake and The Problem of Racial Profiling

Residents of New York have three core nicknames with which to identify New York’s most vicious gang, the NYPD: “Pigs,” “The Boys,” and “Officer, what are you talking about I’m not resisting.”

While to anyone else these may seem rude and anti-police, the names make sense when you look at the statistics and videos confirming the rise of police brutality and use of excessive force not just in New York but in the U.S as a whole.

It seems almost redundant at this point to keep writing about all the racially motivated accounts of police brutality that keep popping up across this nation. Earlier this year in March, Guardian found that 545 counts of police homicides are omitted from FBI studies. In 2015, the ratio of black people killed by the police to any other race is 3:1.These deaths include those of unarmed victims and those carrying toys.

So when the James Blake incident occurred it was both disgusting and not surprising all at once.

As can be seen in the minute long surveillance video of the arrest Blake was just standing in front of a building doing literally nothing and was tackled to the ground by a plain clothes police officer in a manner that was unnecessary and completely excessive. The excuse being given is that the officer was following a lead in regards a string of identity thefts that had been occurring throughout the day and James Blake fit the description. What exactly was that description? Black and good looking?

While this example of excessive force is not as severe as the actions taken against Eric Garner or Walter Scotts or hundreds of other black men, it is evidence that the NYPD is suffering from a systemic torrent of abuse of power. A problem which Commissioner Benjamin Bratton seems to have no response.

James Blake is amongst a lucky few that have dealt with this kind of treatment from the police and managed to walk away alive and with no injury save the major blow dealt to his human dignity.

However, for those of us that are not former tennis champions here are 3 reasons why this is absolutely terrifying.  

1. James Blake had his hands out of his pockets, was leaning against a wall outside of his hotel, and was smiling. Yet, he was body slammed and taken away by NYPD officer James Frascatore. To quote Blake himself,

         “You’d think they could say, ‘Hey, we want to talk to you,’… I was just standing there. I wasn’t running… It’s blatantly unnecessary.”

Blake has shied away from bringing up racial motivation in public, but we’re more than happy to do it for him. If Bernie Madoff and Timothy McVeigh can be arrested with dignity and calm approach, literally anyone can and should.

2. Officer Frascatore has a history. He’s been sued 4 times for excessive force and has had 5 complaints against him within the last 5 years. That’s not the worst part, though. Apparently, and, again, unsurprisingly, there are cops out on the streets with worse records. These kinds of cops who show such instability are allowed to walk around freely with a gun and a badge that protects them from prosecution and public ridicule.

3. The public might have never cared about this if James Blake wasn’t a tennis star. Moreover, what would have happened if there was no recording? What would have happened if his skin was even darker? What would have happened if his hands were in his pockets, or he was wearing a hoodie? Why do the news outlets have to remind us that he’s “Harvard educated”? Should a person who doesn’t have an Ivy league education get body slammed to the ground?

It’s devastating and horrific that these occurrences have melted into the unsurprising dullness of everyday life. It’s mind boggling that blackness equates arrest. We have a reasonable request for the men and women who protect us: Don’t be quick to hit. Don’t be quick to shoot. Don’t be quick to profile.

What needs to be understood is that minority citizens are not anti-police. They are pro-public safety. And when institutions like the NYPD are a threat to public safety, where are people supposed to turn?


Image via Radar Online