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How a False Arrest Pushed Ex-Tennis Pro James Blake to Be a Voice for Police Accountability

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Transcript: September 9, 2015 I was standing outside the Hyatt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, planning on getting a car heading to the US Open. I do some corporate appearances and sponsor visits and things like that. I didn’t think much of it.

I looked up while I was waiting for the car and saw someone running towards me, and as he got to me I was smiling thinking this was some sort of friendly encounter—a fan or someone that was just a long lost friend or something—but he quickly dispelled that myth in my head and put me on the ground and slammed me to the ground and had his knee in my back and cuffed me and told me to not say a word and just listen to whatever he had to say. So I did. I complied.

I had seen everything in the news about noncompliance or perceived noncompliance of anyone in custody of the police so I stood up and did what he said.

And they said it was just a case of mistaken identity, but it was clearly, in my mind, excessive, and it didn’t need to be handled that way when there were five officers on the scene and could have easily just asked me for my identification and moved on and not had any sort of an incident.

As it was happening I was pretty much in shock. I try to think of myself as pretty calm, cool and collected, and I didn’t know what to do and what to say, how to act—because I hadn’t been put in cuffs like that before, I didn’t know how else to get my point across because they weren’t listening.

I was trying to let them know that my US Open credential was in my back pocket. “I’m not someone that—whatever it is you’re looking for, for whatever kind of criminal you’re looking for, it has nothing to do with me, it’s not me.” They weren’t hearing it. They didn’t want to hear anything about it. They were in power; they were in control, and let me know that.

So going through it I was embarrassed, I felt extremely vulnerable, because they had me cuffed and I didn’t know what for, and I didn’t know what they were planning on doing.

So, the blue wall of silence, from what I understand it, is when any officer does something wrong, inappropriate, the rest of the officers are going to be silent. They’re not going to mention it, they’re not going to go against him and turn them into internal affairs or turn them into anyone else, they’re going to stick with him and that’s almost like a fraternity, a brotherhood. And it’s something that is hopefully outdated and was prevalent supposedly back in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s.

A lot of the officers I speak to now say that it’s a thing of the past, that it’s not happening, but in my case it seems like it happened, because there are five officers that all witnessed what happened, or four that witnessed what happened, one was that was the instigator, and none of them filed a report. Any of them could have filed a report and said, “This is what happened on this day, this was inappropriate,” but none of them did.

So the first time the NYPD made a statement it was that they were investigating whether excessive force was used, and that I wasn’t even in handcuffs, and the whole encounter took less than just a couple of minutes.

And when I saw that and couldn’t believe that that was the story they were going to go with, I didn’t even know at that time that there was a videotape.
There was surveillance footage that showed what actually happened, and it was just infuriating to see that because I knew that if there wasn’t that video they could get away with that, they could say that and they could have four or five officers say the same thing “No, nothing happened,” and move on, and I was very much afraid that that was going to be the case. Even as much as I feel like I’m credible—I have no reason to lie or to make up a story—I feel like the general public would listen to five cops that are on the scene that would say one thing even if it’s contradictory to what I say actually happened.

After I got back from the US Open is when I realized that there was a video, and as soon as I spoke to the head of security at the Grand Hyatt he said, “Well, I saw that too and we have the timestamp on here, and it was for 15 minutes so we know how long you were in cuffs for, we have them leading you away in cuffs, we have all of that.”

So I was very thankful to him for helping me and for making sure that tape stayed safe, because I think that’s what helped the truth get out and helped people realize that I wasn’t just making this up or that what they initially said was far from the truth.

And I don’t blame the ones that are the higher-ups, the powers that be because they may have heard that story from the officers that were on the scene, and you would expect them to believe them to tell the truth.

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