If you saw the video of Seattle Seahawks star defensive end Michael Bennett being manhandled by police officers in Las Vegas after the Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor fight and the first question that you asked is “what did he do,” you are among the millions of willfully blind Americans who assume that police brutality against black people is a figment of the imagination or justifiable. See video below:
If you have watched the video and still assume that Bennett must have done something to deserve being body slammed and roughed up to the point that he could not breathe and was losing feelings in his hands from the cuffs being too tight, you are likely among the willfully ignorant who believe that Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner to protest this type of police brutality against black people was an affront to your sense of patriotism.
To you computer keyboard patriots, I know full well that many of you could not care less about the fact that Bennett could have died because officers assumed that this 6’6 280 lb man must have been involved in a shooting on the Vegas strip that sent the crowds, including Bennett, running for safety.
You could not care less because the reality of police brutality rarely happens to white men, women or your kids like it happens to black people. During my nearly 19 years as a prosecutor or criminal defense lawyer, I have seen too many cases of drunk, high and belligerent white folks cursing out or fighting the police–and living to tell all about it.
But despite having three college degrees and holding memberships in the state and federal bars across Florida, the fact that I stand nearly 6’2 and have weighed in excess of 200-300 lbs since the 10th grade has made me a target of police brutality, including:
*That time in 11th grade when my middle linebacker/offensive line playing self was riding with my defensive end playing cousin Walter Smith II to go pick up our mutual friend Chris Henry near the Florida A&M University campus to go to a party. Riding in his father’s brand new Lincoln, the officers had us on the side of the road sitting on the curb with flashlights in our faces assuming that we were looking for cocaine. That was until they realized that he was not lying about being the son of the immediate past president of FAMU–the apologies were swift and the “you boys be careful” were even quicker, but they did little to assuage the anger and humiliation we felt.
*Or the time that my family and I were seeking to go house hunting in the exclusive Golden Eagle neighborhood after church one Sunday early in my legal career and despite being well dressed and in my new Volvo S-80, the officer at the gate asked “you folks would not be trying to go burglarize anyone’s home now, would you?” Suffice it to say that after a few choice words, I did not move to that neighborhood.
*Or the time I was pulled for a malfunctioning tail-light as I turned into the Callen neighborhood on Tallahassee’s southside where I was living in my parent’s old home early in my career, and when I put on my hazards and slowed considerably so that I could pull into my well-lit driveway about a half-mile from where the officer first flashed me, by the time I placed the car in park, there were five police cars that had run up on my grass, blocked me in, and two officers soon had weapons drawn down on me; the police presence was heavy in my ‘hood at the time because little did I know that in a few weeks afterwards, my childhood friend and then NFL star Corey Fuller, whose off-season home was two streets over from mine, was being watched as local law enforcement later charged him when running a gambling house. They thought he was selling dope, which he was not, but our ‘hood was being surveilled, thus the overwhelming police presence that in hindsight, could have found me dead over a tail-light (Nota Bene–Fuller hired me and most of the best defense lawyers in the city to represent himself and his boys and it was doubly satisfying when he and they were either found not guilty at trial, or had charges dropped).
These occurrences have always happened, mind you, but reckless or murderous officers have never been held to account because juries rarely believed the word of a citizen over a sworn police officer claiming fear for officer safety. The anecdotal evidence shows that such is even more true when said ordinary citizen is a person of color.
The game changers, though, were supposed to be dash cam and lapel videos, but we are seeing more and more where juries still prefer to believe a sworn officer even over their own eyes, thus my concern that Bennett may never see true justice in this case despite video evidence.
As I have written before, the most dangerous racist is not the person who wears a Confederate Battle Flags shirt and hurls racist epithets on social media. No, the most dangerous racist is the person who believes that they are not—the ones who say “I like that Ol’ Hobbs,” or the ones who scream “Roll Tide,” “Go Gators” and “Scalp ’em Noles” while taking pictures with their favorite black athletes. The ones who can spit rap lyrics better than the artists themselves, the ones who love Samuel L. Jackson and Kanye and yes, even many of the ones who say “I voted for Barack Obama—twice,” but will assume that Michael Bennett did something to get manhandled by law enforcement.
You see, many of the “how dare you call me a racist” types do not really know Ol’ Hobbs on a personal level, nor do they know their favorite black athletes, like Bennett, entertainers or even former President Obama. As such, “liking” me or other Brothers does not prevent these ones from drawing conclusions about witness credibility when a person of color has been killed or alleges that a police officer has brutalized them. Just like the ardent racist who despises and fears people of color, the unaware racist gets into an elevator at the same time that I do and no matter how very well dressed I am, no matter how nice the leather on my Tumi briefcase is, no matter the fact that the keys in my hand are of late-model Benzes, they see a relatively tall and large black man who is a threat. The fear is in their eyes or in the rapid fire idle chatter they engage in to gauge whether their initial fears are well founded.
Indeed, the unaware racist is even skeptical when a lawyer like me says that over the past few years, I have had officers who showed unimaginably gross disrespect to me in official court proceedings. One police officer in Ocala, Florida audibly told a prosecutor in the hallway that he did not have to answer that “arrogant mother fuckers questions” during a deposition; when we resumed and he still would not answer my questions, I calmly told him we could do it the easy way, or I could have him held in contempt and he could answer my questions from his county jail cell. Of course he began answering the questions despite staring at me like he wanted to take a swing, but my point is that if officers are so brazenly nasty towards a black officer of the court, it is obvious how nasty officers of this ilk are to John and Jane Citizen while on patrol.
Perhaps Bennett’s mistreatment will inspire a greater outcry from the same influential NFL types who have “white-balled” Colin Kaepernick? Who knows, but for my white readers who see the disparate treatment and feel compelled to act, you can help by pressuring your mayor and city council members to stay on top of their police chief as far as hirings and firings of reckless officers are concerned and to further ensure that officers are properly disciplined when they use excessive force. You can stay on top of your elected district and state attorney to bring charges directly as opposed to using the grand jury to manipulate the truth while allowing bad cops to go uncharged while remaining on the force. These are THE best legal methods for long-term change and if you are unwilling to join us black folks in seeking solutions, your quiet is tacit approval and makes you part of the problem.