Police violence tends to get the most public visibilty when it happens to celebrities, and that is certainly the case for the NYPD’s recent assault on retired tennis star James Blake. Blake, who was in New York for a special appearance at the US Open, was accosted by five white plainsclothes officers yesterday. One of the cops bodyslammed the black tennis pro on the concrete outside of his Midtown Manhattan hotel.
Blake was reportedly mistaken for a suspect during an identity theft sting that was happening at the hotel. After a retired officer recognized Blake and told the arresting officers who he was, he was released. In a statement to the New York Daily News soon after the incident, Blake described how he was confused because the officers were not wearing uniforms and didn’t announce their intentions before attacking him:
“Maybe I’m naïve, but I just assumed it was someone I went to high school with or someone who was running at me to give me a big hug, so I smiled at the guy.”
“You’d think they could say, ‘Hey, we want to talk to you. We are looking into something. I was just standing there. I wasn’t running. It’s not even close [to being okay]. It’s blatantly unnecessary. You would think at some point they would get the memo that this isn’t okay, but it seems that there’s no stopping it.”
Blake, for his part, is speaking to the media and says he has not been contacted by the NYPD. When speaking on whether this was a case of racism, Blake had two different answers. When initially speaking to the Daily News, he said, “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.” In this morning’s interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” he told interviewer Robin Roberts that race was not a factor in the arrest:
RR: “This was a case of excessive force, you’re not making it about racial profiling—"
JB: “No,” Blake said.
RR: “You just feel it was use of excessive force?” Roberts continued.
In a media statement this morning, NYPD Commisioner Bill Bratton apologized to Blake and asserted that the NYPD was not only opening an internal affairs probe into the incident, but that the officer who assaulted Blake had been placed on modified assignment and had his gun and badge taken away.
Bratton, however, was adamant in his appearance on CNN’s “New Day” that this was not an issue of police racism:
“Sorry, race has nothing at all to do with this… If you look at the photograph of the suspect, it looks like the twin brother of Mr. Blake. So let’s put that nonsense to rest right now.”