In what appears to be a case of mistaken identity, former tennis great James Blake was slammed to the ground, handcuffed and detained by five plainclothes officers on Wednesday.
Blake tells the Daily News that he was outside his Manhattan hotel before heading out to the U.S. Open when the officers mistook him for someone they believed to be involved in an identity theft ring.
“It was definitely scary and definitely crazy,” said the player who was once ranked No. 4 in the world.
Given that he is African-American, some are speculating that this may have been a case of racial profiling. When asked his opinion on the matter, he responded,
I don’t know if it’s as simple as that. To me it’s as simple as unnecessary police force, no matter what my race is. 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.
You’d think they could say, ‘Hey, we want to talk to you. We are looking into something. I was just standing there. I wasn’t running. It’s not even close (to be okay). It’s blatantly unnecessary. You would think at some point they would get the memo that this isn’t okay, but it seems that there’s no stopping it.
The 35-year-old, who attended Harvard before going on tour, says that when he was approached, he initially didn’t realize what was going on.
“Maybe I’m naïve, but I just assumed it was someone I went to high school with or something who was running at me to give me a big hug, so I smiled at the guy,” Blake said.
However, he alleges that within moments, the officer had picked him up, thrown him down on the sidewalk, yelled at him to roll over on his face and said, “Don’t say a word.”
Blake said he responded, “I’m going to do whatever you say. I’m going to cooperate. But do you mind if I ask what this is all about?”
The officer replied, “We’ll tell you. You are in safe hands.”
Not surprisingly, Blake admits he didn’t feel very safe.
After being surrounded by four other members of law enforcement, and spending 15 minutes in handcuffs, Blake said the last officer on the scene realized they had the wrong person and apologized. The first officer chose not to.
Blake only suffered a cut to his left elbow and bruises to his left leg, and eventually got in a car and went to the Open. Yet he says he was still shaken by the incident several hours later.
“I have resources to get to the bottom of this. I have a voice,” he said, explaining his choice to share this publicly. “But what about someone who doesn’t have those resources and doesn’t have a voice? It’s hard to believe this can still be happening.”
That civic-minded approach is what Blake has been known for throughout his career. Just last week, he announced he was running the New York City Marathon to raise money for cancer research.
“For all the people this to happen to. James Blake is one of the nicest people you could ever want to meet,” said a source close to the tennis star.