Jay Pharoah Recalls Officer Kneeling on His Neck During LAPD Encounter: 'I Just Thought, Why?'

"Luckily, they pulled me up and I got out of it. But it's like, why does it have to go to that extremity, when I'm an innocent bystander?" the comedian said

Jay Pharoah
Jay Pharoah. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty

Jay Pharoah is speaking out about his disturbing encounter with law enforcement.

During an interview with Gayle King on CBS This Morning, the former Saturday Night Live star recalled the incident with the Los Angeles Department in which he said an officer placed a knee on his neck during a case of mistaken identity in April.

Pharoah, 32, first shared the story and security camera footage of the encounter last week, amid ongoing protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died last month after being pinned to the ground by a white police officer with a knee on his neck for almost nine minutes. Of Pharoah's video, the Los Angeles Police Department told CBS This Morning, "We are aware of the video and its [sic] under investigation."

Pharoah said he was walking across the street when a group of officers, guns drawn, approached him and instructed him to get on the ground and spread his arms out.

After he complied, "The officer comes, he gets on top of me, he puts his knee on me ... he puts on the cuffs," Pharaoh recalled. "I'm shocked, I'm scared, I don't know why I'm being detained. I'm just totally confused right now."

Eventually, Pharoah said the officers pulled him up and told him he fit the description of a black man in gray sweatpants and a gray shirt, which the comedian was also wearing. Asked how he thinks they should have approached him, Pharoah said, "I think the right way to handle the situation would have been for the cops to calmly come up to me, since they see I don't have anything on me. They should have been like, 'Hey man, we're having a problem right now, we ask you if you have your ID, because there's somebody who just fled the scene from police officers and we're looking for him.'"

According to Pharaoh, he informed the cops that he didn't have his ID on him but that they could Google his name.

"A couple of minutes later, they came back and they said, 'Oh, we got a call that you're not the guy. Sorry,'" he said, adding, "That's not enough."

As for being pinned to the ground by a knee on his neck?

"I just thought, why?" Pharaoh said. "Now, I do not have eight minutes and 46 seconds of an officer being on top of me like that, obstructing my airway and choking me. I don't have that. Luckily, they pulled me up and I got out of it. But it's like, why does it have to go to that extremity, when I'm an innocent bystander?"


Jay Pharoah
Footage shared by Jay Pharoah. Jay Pharoah/Instagram
Jay Pharoah
Footage shared by Jay Pharoah. Jay Pharoah/Instagram

"We should never have to feel like our lives are in danger when we're doing regular human activities," he continued. "I don't want to have to fear for my life when I'm going to Whole Foods, getting some chips and guac and picking up a kombucha. I don't want to feel like my life is going to be sacrificed when I got to go to the gas station and I'm pumping some gas, standing out there and a cop comes rolling past and I don't know what he's going to do. I should not feel this way when I'm trying to do regular human activity."

Pharaoh said that in the moment, he feared for his life, and that his parents were distraught when he told them the story.

"I called my mom and told her what happened. My dad was on the phone, too. My mom started crying," he said. "It's a terrible feeling that the aftermath of a terrible situation can cause that much impact on people around you."

"Black people in America ... why do we have to feel like we're guilty until proven innocent, where the other side gets innocent until proven guilty?" he asked. "That's the big message. The message is you can be innocent as a black person, not doing anything, totally unassuming. You're totally innocent, and you can still get messed with."

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.
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