Police brutality is arguably one of the most widespread issues in today’s society. It’s a problem that the 2016 presidential candidates struggled to find solutions to and it’s something that our society as a whole has been discussing predominantly over the past few years.
While many of these incidents have involved ordinary individuals, celebrities have also found themselves as victims of police brutality. For example, retired tennis professional James Blake
survived an encounter with a violent police officer in 2015 that gained national attention.
Blake spoke about his experience with police brutality at the Open Visions Forum in the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts on Monday, Jan. 30.
Blake describes this incident as the moment that changed his life. While he was waiting outside his hotel room in New York City before the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, he was tackled to the ground by an off-duty officer, James Frascatore. Blake was put in handcuffs and he was never told what was happening or why he was handcuffed. Five officers came onto the scene before he was released approximately 15 minutes later. After the U.S. Open, he went to the press without knowledge of surveillance footage. Once he found out that footage existed of the attack, the police had already acquired it. They released the footage on Sept. 11; his story was buried under 9/11 tributes and memories.
He was mistaken for a suspected perpetrator of credit card fraud. Coincidentally, the man they confused him for was also innocent.
Unlike the four other black men that made complaints for Frascatore’s misconduct, Blake made the point that no one would care unless they were famous. Blake is still fighting his legal battle against Frascatore and he refuses to stop until he is fired.
Although what happened to Blake was upsetting, he decided to use his voice to make a difference.
“The fact that I have a voice to speak up to let people know that these things happen more than people think and unfortunately a lot of them get left unsaid or not talked about,” Blake said, referring to how he was able to use his celebrity status to voice this issue to a larger community and garner more national attention toward police brutality.
Sophomore Brooke Grasso felt that Blake’s discussion of voice resonated with her. “This presentation and Mr. Blake’s story, should, among many other things, inspire us all to be as [Fairfield Police] Chief MacNamara said ‘problem solvers, not problem finders.’ Everyone should strive to make their voices heard in order to make a change,” she said.
Furthermore, Ana Bandazian ‘19 enjoyed how the purpose of Blake’s presentation wasn’t to degrade police officers, but rather “to try and educate people that sometimes there are bad seeds in the police force and unfortunately those bad seeds make police officers less trustworthy.”
In the future, Blake says that he would like to see these “bad seeds” be held accountable for their actions to prevent these incidents from happening in the future.
Blake believes one solution would be to further training in order for officers to be prepared for any situation. After Blake’s talk, he sat down with retired police Captain Pete McDermott, now an applied ethics professor at Fairfield and police Chief Gary MacNamara, in order to provide a law enforcement perspective to his story. Both McDermott and MacNamara agreed that what happened to Blake was unacceptable.
Blake, McDermott and MacNamara had a conversation in regards to police misconduct and what can be done in order to make a change. The three were in agreement that police officers require more training. They emphasized the importance of discussions like this, saying that most of them get drowned out by anger rather than reaching a solution.
“We need to have these discussions. We think we know each other [police officers and civilians], but we don’t. Experiences are important,” said Chief MacNamara.
By giving speeches like the one he delivered to the Fairfield community, Blake hopes that he can raise awareness to the fact that “there are some cops that aren’t doing their job the right way and they’re making it harder for the cops that are doing their job the right way because it creates a distrust with the communities that they’re trying to police.”
Blake has spent the past couple of years recovering from the incident and trying to formulate what it means to him.
“I am trying to turn it into a victory, turn it into something positive rather than negative because so much of life is how you react to situations and it was a terrible situation but I know I’m lucky because it could have been a lot worse,” Blake said.