The police versus Michael Bennett
The Las Vegas police union's letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is repugnant, dangerous and irresponsible, writes Nation columnist.
SEATTLE SEAHAWK Michael Bennett's public statement, featuring a vivid, emotional description of his being handcuffed and threatened by Las Vegas police on the morning of August 27 during a chaotic scene on the strip, was disturbing enough. As video and photographic evidence shows, he was put on the ground by the Vegas police and handcuffed with a knee put into his back, while the primary officer took out a weapon and placed it near the back of his head.
While an official spokesperson for the Las Vegas Police Department (LVPD) merely asked people to suspend commentary until it completed its investigation, the police union, the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, has chosen to escalate this situation in a manner that should enrage anyone who thinks the police should serve everyone equally under the law.
In a public letter addressed to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the Vegas police union gives the game away early. In the opening paragraph, it calls on Goodell to "conduct an investigation, and take appropriate action, into Michael Bennett's obvious false allegations against our officers." But calling upon Bennett's employer to investigate him in response to speaking about what happened is, gobsmackingly, not even the most repugnant part. The union then references Bennett's anthem protests, and with the thud of a bully's sucker punch, writes, "While the NFL may condone Bennett's disrespect for our American Flag, and everything it symbolizes, we hope the league will not ignore Bennett's false accusations against our police officers."
Invoking Bennett's politics as a post-facto justification for what took place is incredibly dangerous and irresponsible. It is a cheap effort to put out the idea to the world that, no matter what the officers in question may have done, Michael Bennett deserved what happened to him because of his political beliefs.
After that, the letter is just manure thrown against the wall, with the hope that something sticks. It's terribly shoddy work--for a document aiming to refute "Bennett's false accusations against our police officers," nothing factual that Bennett described in his own letter or subsequent press conference is either challenged or refuted.
BENNETT CLAIMED that he feared for his life after hearing what he thought were gunshots. He fled with masses of other people. He then said--and, again, this is backed up by photographs and video we have seen--that a police officer put a gun by his head as he lay handcuffed and prone on the ground, threatening to "blow [his] fucking head off." We would know more, but the officer had his body camera turned off at the time of the incident. Nothing in the letter says that the scenario described above did not take place.
The other deeply distressing part of the letter is its frothing rage at Bennett's statement that racism was a part of why he was singled out as chaos reigned on the strip. Bennett explains his fear while lying prone on the ground, writing, "I am going to die for no other reason than I am Black and my skin color was somehow a threat." These were Bennett's fears. They are not subject to debate. Yet the Vegas police union said that racism could not have been a part of it since some of the officers on the scene were people of color, as if that has anything to do with power, powerlessness, or the question of racial profiling.
Then there is the part where police describe Bennett as someone who "leapt over a four-foot barrier wall." I've seen Bennett in the gym and he is a hell of an athlete. But he is 6-foot-4-inches and 275 pounds. He does not jump over 48-inch barrier walls. This kind of language mirrors the words that police have used to describe Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, making them sound like they are superhuman in size and strength, adjectives used to justify killing them.
Now, in what can only be deemed one holy hell of a coincidence, the LVPD announced yesterday night--12 days later after the incident--that they are investigating "reports" that Bennett was involved in an "altercation" earlier that evening. It's a shameful, transparent and vindictive act by a police department bruised over being called out.
Michael Bennett has taken the great risk of coming forward for the simple reason that he knows he has the money and resources to stand up in a way that so many people hurt by police violence do not. Now the Vegas police union has foolishly decided to victimize someone who refuses to be a victim.
The Vegas police union has also made a terrible tactical mistake in attacking Michael Bennett. They're going after somebody that's given his time, his money and his heart to causes ranging from childhood nutrition, to orphans in Haiti, to impoverished indigenous communities, to setting up science programs for young girls in underserved neighborhoods and, yes, to standing up to police violence. They should not take on Michael Bennett's character for the simple reason that--as hundreds of people who have been personally helped by this man can attest--it's not a fair fight.
First published at TheNation.com.