Sometimes police tapes can be misleading. Not this one. Sometimes suspects demand force. Not this one. Sometimes a cop has a really good reason. Not this one.
The videotape of James Blake being arrested in New York City this past week leaves nothing to the imagination. Blake, a former tennis star, is the portrait of relaxation, leaning against the front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, waiting for a ride, when a burly, plainclothes police officer comes barreling in like a blitzing linebacker, grabs Blake’s left arm, then the back of his neck, and forces him face down to the sidewalk.
Blake does not resist. He does not struggle. He later told the news media that he was speaking calmly, even acknowledging police have a tough job, but insisting the cop had the wrong guy.
Blake claimed that he was never read his rights, that the officer never followed his suggestion to check his U.S. Open ID, and that he was paraded through the public before ultimately being released 15 minutes later. Six plainclothes officers were involved, yet not one of them filed the paperwork required when a false arrest is made.
If Blake, a Harvard-educated biracial man once ranked among the top 10 tennis players in the world, hadn’t spoken out, you wonder whether we’d ever know about this. I doubt it.
That should bother us greatly.
Our rights as Americans
By the way, here’s the crime the cops were investigating: credit card fraud. Not murder. Not a shooting. No reason to believe the suspect was armed. Yes, the man they were looking for bore a great resemblance to Blake (although he turned out not to be the culprit either!). So what? Did the officer really have to pin Blake to the ground — without as much as a question? In what world is that OK? Maybe the old Soviet Union? Germany during World War II? Not here. This country. Credit card fraud? Was he going to slash the officer with an American Express?
Sure, the suspect might have fled. But if “possible” flight were justification, you should be tackled every time you’re pulled over for a broken taillight.
Now when these things happen — and they seem to happen every week — people scatter to familiar sides. Some defend police for having the toughest job on Earth. Some decry police as bullies. Some cite procedure. Some flip through law books.
But nobody should ignore the fact that this cop, James Frascatore, has been sued at least four times for roughing up suspects during arrests. And he has been been on the New York force for only four years.
I’m no mathematician, but that’s a pretty bad average.
And so the same way we ask how a drunken driver is behind the wheel after multiple violations, we should ask how this cop still is making arrests in this time in this country. And we should wonder if the victim of his aggression wasn’t a once-famous tennis player, would Frascatore, who had his gun and badge stripped by an embarrassed police commissioner, still be out there treating others this way?
You know the answer. It’s yes.
That, too, should bother us greatly.
Remove the bad apples
You notice I’ve barely mentioned race. That’s because race should not be the lead on this story — although it sure may be part of it. It does seem that Frascatore, who is white, has issues with black suspects, given multiple New York media reports citing black individuals claiming he roughed them up (including punching a man in the face for a broken taillight). And if true, it’s beyond disgusting, and his continued presence on the force is a blight that should be wiped out immediately.
But the fact that Blake, 35, doing nothing, leaning against a front wall of a major Manhattan hotel, can be body slammed this way should speak volumes about how some cops handle things away from mean streets and racial tension.
“To me it’s as simple as unnecessary police force, no matter what my race is,” Blake told the news media. He also correctly pointed out that, “I have the resources to get to the bottom of this. I have a voice. But what about the person who doesn’t have the resources and doesn’t have a voice?”
That person would likely be bruised, scarred and wondering how this could happen in America, while police who didn’t file a report went about their business and a cowboy cop with four lawsuits against him continued to play wild, wild West.
And that should really bother us.
Because that person could be you.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at mitchalbom.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/mitch-albom.