Story: A neatly dressed, well groomed 30-something man is standing outside a nice hotel in Manhattan, waiting quietly, a smile on his face. At the same time a sting operation is going down inside the hotel where the police are arresting some people who have been accused of identity theft. The man just standing there minding his own business is identified as looking like one of the people in the theft ring. Oh, and, by the way, the 30-something man is white.
How do the plainclothes officers outside the hotel respond? Do a few of them move in this man's direction, form a loose circle around him, show their police identification and tell him to put his hands up, then only take more aggressive action if he fails to comply? Or do they rush him without warning, pick him up, body slam him to the ground and cuff him? Either scenario is possible, but since he's only a suspect, not someone who they've seen commit a crime, since the crime he may have committed is a white collar, nonviolent crime, and since he's standing quietly in front of the hotel, I think good police work would mean refraining from the use of force unless it's necessary.
The incident I described unfolded Wednesday night in front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan, but one thing about the man is different than the way I described him. He's black. He's James Blake, the 35 year old tennis star who has retired from the tennis circuit but is still playing in the Champions Tour with the likes of John McEnroe and Jim Courier. When he was identified as one of the people possibly involved in the identity theft ring, he was waiting for a car that would take him to the U.S. Open where he was going to be interviewed. According to an interview Blake gave on ABC News
, a plainclothes policeman wearing t shirt and shorts without a visible badge charged him.
"I saw someone from the street running directly at me. . . . He picked me up and body slammed me, put me on the ground, told me to turn over, shut my mouth, and he put the cuffs on me."
Sure, it could've happened to any well dressed, 30-something guy standing quietly on the sidewalk outside a fancy hotel who the police thought had committed a crime, but the chances are far more likely that the aggressive take-down would happen to a black male than a white male who was similar in every way except for skin color. It can be dangerous to be Driving While Black, Walking While Black or Standing While Black.