Former tennis star James Blake, who was mistakenly identified as a cell phone theft suspect in Midtown Manhattan and violently tackled by a plainclothes police officer on Wednesday, said the officer who initiated the incident should be fired.
“It’s not debatable if he should be out there ever again,” Blake said Saturday morning. “You can’t let that pattern continue.”
“I want him to know what he did was wrong, and that in my opinion, he doesn’t deserve to ever have a badge and a gun again, because he doesn’t know how to handle that responsibility effectively,” Blake told the New York Daily News Saturday morning. “He doesn’t deserve to have the same title as officers who are doing good work and are really helping keep the rest of the city safe.”
The incident raised concerns about racial profiling and the excessive use of force by the police. Blake is African American, while all five officers involved in the incident are white.
Blake was was standing outside the Grand Hyatt New York, waiting for a car to take him to the U.S. Open on Wednesday. A plainclothes NYPD officer mistook him for a suspect in an identity-theft ring that had been operating in the area. Blake was smiling when he saw the officer, he said.
Recently released video footage of the incident shows the officer’s speed and the brutality of the arrest. The officer charged at Blake and then spun him around, picked him up, and slammed him to the ground before handcuffing him. The incident was violent enough to bruise his leg and cut his arm. The officer, Blake said, never announced he was a police officer.
“I’m going to do whatever you say. I’m going to cooperate,” Blake said to the officer as soon as he could speak. “But do you mind if I ask what this is all about?”
Blake cooperated throughout and offered identification quickly. The four other officers eventually joined the first, detaining him for 15 minutes. Blake said they did not give him their names, though he eventually saw badges on some of them. He was released from police custody once a retired detective passing by recognized Blake.
Formerly ranked number four in the world, Blake retired from tennis at the U.S. Open two years ago. At first he thought the officer could have been an old friend “running at me to give me a big hug.”
Blake is chair of the charitable arm of tennis’ governing body, the USTA Foundation, which is one reason he was in New York. The USTA promotes both tennis and education.
The officer, whose name is James Frascatore, has been placed on desk duty while the authorities investigate the potential use of excessive force. He has a history of force complaints, with the New York Times reporting that he pulled over an African American man in Queens for a broken taillight in 2012, then “opened his car door and punched him three times in the mouth, unprovoked.” The next year, another Queens resident complained Frascatore punched him in the stomach outside of a bodega, calling him a racial epithet.
Police departments’ excessive use of force, which all too often turns deadly, has become more of a national issue following the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and others. The Black Lives Matter movement has successfully brought the issue into national focus, and is attempting to achieve social and policy change.
“The NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau interviewed James Blake last night,” Deputy Commissioner Stephen Davis said in a statement. “The NYPD is releasing video footage from the September 9th incident outside of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan. A copy of the video was provided to Mr. Blake’s attorney. The investigation is still ongoing.”
“I spoke to Mr. Blake a short time ago and personally apologized for yesterday’s incident,” said Police Commissioner William Bratton in a statement. “Mr. Blake indicated he would be willing to meet with the Internal Affairs Bureau as our investigation continues. Additionally, he said he would be returning the Mayor’s earlier phone call to speak to him. Mr. Blake said he would like to meet with the Mayor and me at a future date, which we would be agreeable to.”
Blake said he accepted the apology but wanted to see the officers involved are held accountable.