James Blake, the latest case of 'breathing while black'

Ask James Blake what law he was breaking by standing outside of a hotel in New York Wednesday. Being black comes to mind.

All Lives Matter, right?

Follow the law and there will be no problems, right?

No, not right. In fact, that’s about as wrong as wrong gets.

Ask James Blake what law he was breaking by standing outside of a hotel in New York Wednesday.

Being black comes to mind.

The ex-tennis pro had just conducted a magazine interview and was waiting for a ride to pick him up and take him to the U.S. Open. Blake, who was once the No. 4 ranked tennis player in the world, was suddenly rushed by five white plainclothes officers.

At least one of the officers tackled Blake, slamming him down to the ground before throwing handcuffs on him.

Blake said the officers failed to identify who they were or why they detained him so aggressively.

In between a busy day of corporate media meetings, Blake had somehow found himself being trounced and subjugated by the state. But how? He didn’t sell a loose cigarette. He didn’t have a run-in with a convenience store owner. He wasn’t playing with a fake gun.

And those reasons don’t even matter. It’s the life — yes, the black life — that remains too often worthless in the eyes of those sworn to protect and serve.

At that moment, Blake was quite literally an innocent black man being forcefully driven into the sidewalk for doing nothing. For those that cling to respectability politics, Blake represents the “last type of brother” who should be accosted in that way.

None of Blake’s achievements — tennis pro, New York Times best-selling author, philanthropist — could prevent, as Ta-Nehisi Coates suggests, the plundering of his body.

Blake’s encounter with the New York Police Department is just a daily part of the African-American existence. The entire situation was initiated by mistaken identity, something that has become so routine and commonplace in our community that we openly mock its mere existence.

In New York, America’s stop and frisk headquarters, to be slammed to the ground without thought, consideration or actual breaking of the law is far from uncommon.

To be black in New York — in America for that matter — is to relinquish the right to your body, your movement and your autonomy, all in the name of keeping order for those considered first-class citizens.

The NYPD has focused on Blake being the victim of “mistaken identity,” but the idea that officers couldn’t just speak to Blake and ascertain relevant information to do their jobs properly is indicative of how the black bodies has been weaponized to represent inherent danger.

In a country where black teen girls in bathing suits are thrashed and have their bodies broken, the non-stop assault is neither original nor a unique mistake.

And focusing on respectability politics and how our men and women “carry” themselves in public won’t get you too far either:


In 2013, James Blake said:

I’m proud that I’m in a situation now where I don’t have to face the same things he had to face. I don’t have to face the same things my dad had to face.

In a country where pillaging black folks’ rights is an everyday reality, we must confront unequal and racialized policing, because it would be tragic for James Blake to hand this country down to his daughter, for our generation to allow our children to inherit a legacy of beaten bodies, warped minds and twisted spirits.

Fortunately, Blake is alive to tell his side of the story.

Lincoln Anthony Blades blogs daily on his site ThisIsYourConscience.com. He’s an author of the book “You’re Not A Victim, You’re A Volunteer.” He can be reached on Twitter @lincolnablades and on Facebook at Lincoln Anthony Blades.