Have you ever wondered how it would feel to be a victim of mistaken identity? Worse yet, to have a police officer mistake you for a suspect? How about a plainclothes cop, one who's willing to rush in hard before knowing all the facts? Well, that's exactly what happened to former tennis standout James Blake, while he was in New York for the U.S. Open this week. And on Friday, some footage was released — the video of the NYPD wrongfully tackling James Blake shows just how fast you could be ordered to comply, despite confusing and frightening circumstances.
This is the first recorded footage of the Blake incident, and it basically shows what he described in the aftermath of the incident. He's minding his own business outside an upscale hotel, when suddenly a man runs into the frame and throws him to the ground.
There's no audio, so it's unclear when (if at all) the officer identifies himself — he's not in uniform, and Blake says he didn't. But even if he did, it's an illuminating example of the discrepancy in socially accepted risk for law enforcement officers, and for average people. If Blake had fought back instead of crumpling to the ground, he could be in a lot of trouble right now, despite the fact that he was randomly thrown to the ground on a public street. Here's what it looked like when it went down.
Now obviously, you can't see how things look prior to the cop entering frame, but Blake has no chance to try to brace for this kind of escalation — within two seconds of entering the frame, NYPD Officer James Frascatore was grappling with him, and within seven seconds, he was brought down to the ground.
According to The New York Times, this is far from the first complaint to arise from an action by Frascatore — he has a history of alleged misconduct, including brutality claims by a pair of black men, one of whom claimed Frascatore called him a racial epithet. NYPD commissioner William Bratton, however, denied that race was a factor in the incident, saying that Blake had been confused for a lookalike suspect in an identity theft scheme. Here's the two of them side-by-side, you be the judge.
On top of everything else, according to the New York Daily News, the other man pictured above is no longer considered a suspect, either.
Just think about how little time (basically none) that James had to process and figure out what was happening to him. And remember, just because somebody claims they're a cop as they're rushing to tackle you for no apparent reason doesn't mean that they are — that's why impersonating an officer is a crime. In a statement Friday, however, Blake denied that the officer ever even identified himself as such.
The officer, who was apparently investigating a case of credit card fraud, did not identify himself as a member of law enforcement, ask my name, read me my rights, or in any way afford me the dignity and respect due every person who walks the streets of this country.
Of course, somebody telling you they're a police officer doesn't necessarily mean they are, either — that's why police impersonation is a crime. And yet, had Blake reacted more aggressively, who knows how things would've turned out. It's pretty harrowing, all in all — both Bratton and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have reportedly offered their apologies to Blake, who had the perfect reply.
When this incident was reported in the news media, Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton both called me to extend their personal apologies, and I greatly appreciate those gestures. But extending courtesy to a public figure mistreated by the police is not enough.