James Blake inadvertently drew national attention to racist police violence in 2015 when a White plainclothes New York Police Department (NYPD) officer and his colleagues, mistaking the Black ex-tennis pro for an identity theft suspect, rushed Blake and slammed him on the concrete outside his hotel. Today (June 21), Blake closed his case when he withdrew an excessive force complaint filed against the arresting officer in favor of a new legal fellowship to investigate police misconduct. It’s a move that two activists and mothers of Black men killed by the NYPD are criticizing.
"It’s disappointing that after receiving preferential treatment from the city, James Blake appears to be giving cover to the de Blasio administration for its complete lack of police accountability and transparency instead of supporting the demands of our families and communities for an end to police abuses against us," Gwen Carr and Constance Malcolm, whose sons Eric Garner and Ramarley Graham died as the result of NYPD officers’ actions, said in a joint emailed statement.
The "cover" they mention refers to a fellowship in Blake’s name with the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), with whom Blake filed his complaint against Officer James Frascatore. The New York Times reported last month that Frascatore would not face a public trial as part of an undisclosed deal. Neither Blake nor any city official discussed the deal’s full terms in an emailed statement from Mayor Bill de Blasio‘s office announcing The James Blake CCRB Fellowship.
Instead, the statement describes the terms of the two-year, city-funded fellowship. It calls the fellowship "a program to help the CCRB reduce the number of complaints closed without a full investigation." Starting in January 2018, the city will hire and fund a fellow to help those with CCRB complaints navigate the legal process of closing their cases. The fellow will also work with community leaders in areas with high rates of reported police violence to direct more complaints to the CCRB.
"To do our job well, we have to better understand what it takes to support community members through the CCRB complaint and investigation process," CCRB chair Maya Wiley said in the statement. "The James Blake CCRB Fellowship is an investment in our efforts to address these questions. Building upon improvements the agency has already made, future fellows will aid CCRB by exploring new approaches to completing investigations."
Malcolm and Carr, who still demand justice years after their sons’ killings compelled them to organize and march for police accountability, instead see the city’s treatment of Blake as hypocritical and harmful to departmental reform. From their statement:
The NYPD has not provided accountability or transparency regarding the vast police misconduct related to the killings of our sons, and the de Blasio administration more broadly has only taken steps backward on police accountability and transparency. It’s one of the reasons why the public may never know whether the officer who brutalized Mr. Blake will be fired from the NYPD or what consequences he faced, if any.
Public safety doesn’t come from hiding police misconduct, it comes from preventing it through real reforms like the Right to Know Act, ending broken windows policing, and swiftly and meaningfully holding officers accountable—all important reforms the mayor has obstructed. This announcement achieves none of that. Given the continued delays in seeking accountability for our sons and the fact that New Yorkers continue to be brutalized by the NYPD with near-impunity, it makes it seem that police brutality is not a priority for this administration unless a wealthy celebrity is the victim.
Blake, de Blasio and NYPD commissioner James O’Neill have not responded to Carr and Malcolm’s joint statement as of press time.