“It saddens me to see that kind of policing is still going on, that kind of brutality," James Blake said

By Eric Todisco
June 03, 2020 12:28 PM
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James Blake is reflecting on a dangerous encounter he had with a police officer five years ago.

In an interview with the Associated Press, the 40-year-old retired professional tennis player recalled being physically thrown down and arrested by an NYPD officer in 2015 after he was mistakenly identified as a suspect in a credit card fraud scheme.

“I thought someone was running at me that was a fan, someone that was going to say, ‘Hey I saw you play so and so, I was at this match, my kid plays tennis,’ ” Blake recalled. “I’m smiling with my hands down.”

Video from the incident showed an NYPD officer grabbing Blake, who is black, by the arm, throwing him to the ground on the sidewalk and handcuffing him.

Blake was released from police custody and initially sued the NYPD before the parties reached a settlement that created a watchdog position with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, Reuters reported in 2017. However, he has continued to bring awareness of police brutality against minorities over the years, including in his book, Ways of Grace: Stories of Activism, Adversity, and How Sports Can Bring Us Together, published in June 2017.

Now, Blake's raw memories of that incident have resurfaced following the death of George Floyd, the 46-year-old black male who died while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers last week.

"I went to bed very sad and very deflated, seeing this over and over again,” Blake told the AP. "I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t stop my mind from racing, thinking about the events that took place there, the events that took place with me in 2015."

“It saddens me to see that kind of policing is still going on, that kind of brutality, particularly how often it is aimed at the black and brown community," he added.

Blake said that he supports peaceful protests, which have taken place across the U.S. in response to Floyd's death. He is also in favor of police reform, including higher pay, better training and independent bodies to investigate wrongdoing by officers.

The retired athlete admitted that he's had a hard time coming to grips with what happened to him in 2015.

"I would love to change this, but for the rest of my life, I'm probably going to be more nervous about any encounter I have with a police officer," he told the AP.

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Blake also shared that while he and his wife, publicist Emily Snider, have yet to show the video of Blake's 2015 incident to their two daughters, ages 6 and 7, they're looking to sit them down for some important conversations soon.

"With what has been on the news the past week, my wife and I have started thinking about when we’re going to start talking with them about a lot of these issues — police brutality and racism and what goes on in this country," he said.

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

  • Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
  • ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.
  • National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.