On Monday, a black man named James Blake was assaulted by a New York City police officer outside his east Midtown hotel. The officer executed what his commissioner later called a “fast approach” takedown on Blake—grabbed his arm, threw him to the ground, and cuffed him—and leaving him cut, bruised and in cuffs for 10 to 15 minutes, all for a crime he didn’t commit. The only difference between Blake’s experience and that of countless other black men in New York is that he received an apology.
James Blake, you see, is a famous tennis star. In fact, the officer only released Blake after a retired cop on the scene recognized him from his accomplishments on the court, which are considerable: before he retired in 2013, he was once ranked the fourth-best men’s tennis player in the world.
The Blake incident came while cops were investing an alleged credit card fraud ring; officers set up a sting in which a delivery person brought cell phones to to the hotel with the hope that suspects would buy the phones with fraudulent cards. Blake apparently resembled a man police believed to be involved with the ring based on an Instagram photo.
City officials were quick to prostrate themselves before Blake, as well they should have been. Mayor Bill de Blasio called him personally to apologize this morning—Blake was reportedly unavailable—and NYPD Comissioner Bill Bratton apologized as well, expressing concerns about “the inappropriateness of the amount of force that was used during the arrest” at a news conference. The officer who tackled Blake, who has not been named, was asked to turn over his badge and gun; he was placed on modified leave.
But would the city be so quick to say sorry if Blake didn’t happen to be rich and well-known? Let’s look at a few other instances of the NYPD using undue force against or otherwise mistreating people during the de Blasio-Bratton era.
- In December of last year, NYPD officer Evans Mazile smashed an alleged fare-jumper’s face so hard with his baton he may have injured his own wrist. No apology was issued to Donavon Lawson, who received the beating.
- In October, an NYPD officer stole cash and a cell phone from the pocket of a black man named Lamard Joye during his 35th birthday party in Coney Island, then pepper-sprayed Joye when he objected. No apology was issued to Joye, and the officer was cleared of wrongdoing.
- The same month, an NYPD officer knocked out a black teenager who was smoking a cigarette in Clinton Hill because the officer believed the cigarette contained marijuana. A year before, the cop who hit him was accused of tackling a black woman in her apartment because he believed she’d carried something suspicious into the hallway. She was carrying a lollipop. Apologies were not issued to either of the victims.
- Also in October, two cops were filmed pistol-whipping Kahreem Tribble, a black teenager who allegedly dropped a bag of weed while the officers were chasing him. Tribble had stopped running and was standing with his hands up when he was struck. “We just want some type of justice,” Tribble’s father told the New York Daily News at the time. “Somebody should have called and apologized.” No one did.
- In September, an officer was filmed slamming a pregnant woman named Sandra Amezquita belly-first onto the ground in Sunset Park. The officer responsible was investigated by the internal affairs department, but no apology was issued to Amezquita.
The list goes on. Aside from being victims of police violence, what the people listed above have in common, including Blake, is that none of them are white. Blake has been on TV, so he got the apology from Bratton. (Usually, it takes someone getting killed.) But even the assault of a world-class athlete couldn’t get the commissioner to recognize what’s right in front of him. “This rush to put a race tag on it; I’m sorry, that’s not involved in this incident at all,” Bratton told reporters a the same conference where he called the officer’s use of force inappropriate. “We have probable cause on the part of the officer, two witnesses who say: ‘That’s him.’”
The commissioner added that Blake looks like he could be the Instagram suspect’s “twin brother.” That guy, who was presumably black as well, turned out to have nothing to do with the alleged crime being committed either, the New York Times reported today.