James Blake's Mistaken Arrest Highlights NYPD's Excessive Use of Force

September 10th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

On Wednesday, James Blake, the world's former No. 4 tennis player, was tackled to the ground and handcuffed for 15 minutes by New York City police officers in front of Midtown Manhattan's Grand Hyatt Hotel, the New York Daily News reported. He was scheduled to make corporate sponsor appearances in New York for the U.S. Open tournament.

The NYPD officers had been looking for a man suspected of credit card fraud, whom they say resembled Blake. The department said it had opened an internal probe into the incident.

According to Blake, who is biracial, the arrest—which was made by five white officers—left scuffs and bruises. However he does not think it's a case of racial profiling, but rather one of excessive force.

On Wednesday, the former tennis star was quoted in the New York Daily News as saying, "In my mind there's probably a race factor involved, but no matter what there's no reason for anybody to do that to anybody."

However in a Thursday segment of "Good Morning America," Blake said he felt the incident was solely one involving excessive force.

"I thought maybe it was just someone I didn't recognize ... A high school friend or someone coming to mess with me and give me a bear hug," Blake told "Good Morning America." "He picked me up and body-slammed me," Blake said. "He put me on the ground, told me to turn over and shut my mouth and put the cuffs on."

Still, many reactions to the mistaken arrest on social media tended towards implicating race as a driver in the incident.

Some even went after Blake for brushing aside the possibility of race being a motivating factor.

When Blake told the arresting officer to check his back pocket for U.S. Open credentials, the officer, whom Blake says never identified himself as law enforcement, told him, "We'll see."

NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton also dismissed racial profiling, on Thursday. "Sorry, race has nothing at all to do with this," Bratton told CNN. "If you look at the photograph of the suspect, it looks like the twin brother of Mr. Blake."

Though some have raised questions about the role that race played in Blake's mistaken arrest, the case does also highlight the use of excessive force by NYPD officers. "I'd like an apology, I'd like an explanation for how they conducted themselves," Blake said on Good Morning America.

On Thursday, Bratton acknowledged the concerns over the use of force in an apology. "We are very interested in speaking with Mr. Blake... to extend our apology. It should not have happened," the police commissioner told a local NBC affiliate.

"The use of force is such that I'm comfortable that it's in the best interest of the department to place the [arresting] officer on modified assignment," he added.

Others pointed to the problems posed by the default use of force by the NYPD, noting other policies that have tended to target people of color.

The officer involved, who has reportedly been with the NYPD for four years, was placed on desk duty and had his gun and badge removed pending an internal investigation, ESPN reported.