What would’ve happened had James Blake resisted?

Like others, I’ve seen the video and I don’t know; I can’t say with 100% certainty that with things being what they are in today’s society I would’ve had the wherewithal to not resist like James Blake did.  On the one hand, you have a stocky, bald white guy charging at you, assaulting you, throwing you to the ground, all the while not identifying himself as a police officer or his reasons for doing so. Who can say but for many of us, the road to the sidewalk might have been a lot messier.  

I’m just saying that it’s natural to resist in certain circumstances, one being when you think you’re under attack by someone unhinged. It’s a mandate of self-preservation.   That James Blake didn’t, that he had enough savvy to immediately assume that he was somehow inadvertently involved in a police action gone wrong, is telling about what many think and know about how our nation’s police officers operate.

James Blake in action against  opponent, Juan Carlos Ferrero, on the third day of the Estoril Open, Oeiras, Portugal,  May 5th 2009. JOSƒ SENA GOULÌO/LUSA

James Blake in action against opponent, Juan Carlos Ferrero, on the third day of the Estoril Open, Oeiras, Portugal, May 5th 2009. JOSƒ SENA GOULÌO/LUSA

He reported to “Good Morning America” that he initially thought a friend was surprising him with a bear hug.  At what point did he comprehend that it wasn’t that at all?  Did that realization come when he was thrown to the other side of the entry way or to the ground?  Whenever it arrived, as a brown-skinned biracial man, you wonder if his mind immediately made snap judgements and assumptions based on what his body’s been reading in the news and subsequently told him to relax, or die.

No one can say what would’ve happened had he resisted but statistics for this year paint a disturbing picture about his chances of survival had he done so.  According to the Washington Post’s database on police shootings in America,  of the 65 unarmed people killed this year alone by police-20 white, 26 black, 16 Hispanic and 3 other-the common denominator in a majority of their deaths is that either they, or someone they were with, resisted in some fashion at the time of arrest or confrontation.  And what should be very clear by now is that resistance is relative.

Take for instance, 25 year old Lavall Hall of Miami Gardens Florida, whose mother called 911 to report that he was outside in his underwear.  It was February and Hall suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.  He was fatally shot when he threatened the reporting officer with a broom handle.  Resistance.

Or, consider 50-year old Jeffory Ray Tevis who, when police responded to a call about an assault, ran at them with a spoon and struggled.  He was fatally shot.  Resistance.

Or better still, let’s remember 44-year old Eric Harris; on the ground, subdued by Oklahoma Tulsa County Sheriff’s Deputies and still a reserve deputy fatally shot him, mistakenly going for his gun rather than his Taser.  Why a man already on the ground, restrained by a contingent of deputies should still be deemed a threat worthy of a non-lethal response should tell us how rigidly cops determine what rises to a threat to their bodily harm.

And the non-arrest of James Blake should equally alert us all as to how precariously we each walk that tight rope between being a lawful citizen one minute and an accused felon, on the ground bleeding or worse, the next. Police Commissioner William Bratton was quick to point out that race was not an issue saying, “I don’t believe that race was a factor.”  He’s right but he’s also wrong.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

It’s about race because the numbers don’t lie.  According to the database, of the 540 people killed by police while brandishing a deadly weapon, 278 were white while only 127 were black (81 Hispanic, 16 Other, 38 Unknown). In fact, blacks dominated no category other than the unarmed category; so the question becomes why we’re still considered such a threat to public safety in the policeman’s mindset, even without a weapon, our shared history notwithstanding, and how such an attitude translates into the type of behavior we see exhibited at the top of the page.

But it’s also about procedure and what police see as lawful responses to everyday situations that they need to have in their toolkit.  It sounds innocuous but the stuff of a cop’s toolkit can kill a man or woman.  It’s about how cops perceive threats while working today’s streets and what they’re willing to do preemptively to protect themselves from them.  At a time when America is struggling to accept that its nation’s police are in need of procedural overhaul, this should be something of a wakeup call.

Cops just like Officer James Frascatore hide in plain sight in forces across the country abusing the powers of their position while eroding the public trust.  James Blake has emerged as something of an activist calling for police reform but how many more have to be unlawfully assaulted by law enforcement before anyone truly takes notice by instituting change.  Do we need it to happen to more celebrities or will more deaths suffice?

Which brings us back to the question, what would’ve happened had James Blake resisted?  I think if he’d resisted as was his lawful right as a citizen under the circumstances to do, he might have been injured, perhaps severely, or even fatally.  That’s something each of us should keep in mind the next time we’re out and standing outside a restaurant waiting for a cab.

YouTube video from Wall Street Journal channel


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Filed under Commentary, Justice, Race

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