Standing While Black: A New Chapter in the Life of James Blake


James Blake

Until Wednesday, September 9, 2015, James Blake led a relatively charmed life. His hard work, skill, talent and blessings catapulted him into a world ranked tennis player and Olympiad. His obvious good looks, kindness and winning personality contributed greatly to his success. Those same attributes, made him a trusting target and unfortunately on this day, the victim of an unprovoked attack in front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel by one of NYC’s plainclothes detectives.

I, like every other sane person, who witnessed the video, am absolutely horrified by the chain of events leading up to the attack and handcuffing of James Blake while he was standing in front of the hotel waiting for his ride to the US Open. All that was required by NY’s Finest was to calmly walk up to their person of interest, identify themselves, ask for identification and based upon the information ascertained by questioning this person of interest either arrest him or let him go due to mistaken identity. Why was physical force necessary when this said person of interest, by his own admission, thought the person running towards him was a high school friend, so his demeanor was welcoming, inviting and not in the least bit adversarial?

If James Blake would have had the misfortune to go unrecognized by the retired policeman who thankfully knew who he was, the outcome would have become more convoluted and entangled. A ride to the police station and possibly Central Booking might have been the next step on the path to a nightmare that I am sure will be replayed in James Blake’s mind as he tries to come to gripes with this terrible wrong in his head. In his case his known celebrity ultimately saved him but not before he was savagely attacked, thrown to the ground, handcuffed and prevented from being able to speak. There is no apology in the world that can erase the 15 minutes James Blake spent in what I am sure was a hellish nightmare that he could not wake up from.

If one of my adult sons would have recounted that exact scenario, my first response would be one of incredulity. After I knew he was physically alright, I would have said “What did you do to warrant this?” as it would be beyond any human comprehension that someone could be standing outside of a hotel, waiting for a taxi, and be viciously attacked and handcuffed by a NYC policeman. This is the fodder of horror stories not 2015 America, or so I thought.

It’s becoming all too commonplace in cities across the country to hear cases of excessive and deadly force being used against unarmed innocent civilians. Traffic stops, selling loose cigarettes, talking on the phone and/or waiting for a taxi should not warrant an onslaught of police intervention, excessive force or death. Whether this most recent incident involving James Blake was race motivated or not, the use of excessive force was definitely not warranted.

Although every fiber of my being is outraged by this travesty that occurred against James Blake, I am secretly encouraged. No amount of naysayers can rewrite this script in order to blame this victim. No one can say he deserved it because he was wearing a hoodie or he was in a high crime neighborhood or he looked like a thug. Here was a clean cut, well-dressed, Harvard educated young man who had the misfortune of standing while black. I hope this latest chapter in the underbelly of American life shines a beacon of light on the malignancy that continues to grow unchecked. The James Blake attack is not an isolated occurrence as many would like us to believe, this is a pervasive and insidious cancer that needs to be excised. I hope that James Blake and others will use their collective clout to help right the tremendous wrongs that are going unchecked across the country. All citizens have the right to live with dignity, peace and safety.

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