As the NFL kicks off another season this weekend, we’re reminded, yet again, the biggest storylines surrounding America’s most popular sport aren’t actually on the field.
Technically, attention will still direct itself onto the field—its sidelines—as certain players, some who’ve already declared their intentions of varying demonstrations, take up the cause Colin Kaepernick pioneered. Last year, the former 49ers quarterback sat during the national anthem. Then, after extreme backlash, Kaepernick opted to kneel in protest of police brutality towards African Americans and other minorities.
That cause, championed by Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, has a new rallying cry thanks to… Michael Bennett. On Wednesday, Bennett claimed Las Vegas police officers handcuffed and detained him on August 27, without cause, outside of a casino where a shooting was believed to have taken place.
In Bennett’s statement, titled “Equality,” Bennett accused the police officers of using excessive force and wrote, “The officer’s excessive use of force was unbearable. I felt helpless as I lay there on the ground handcuffed facing the real-life threat of being killed. All I could think of was ‘I’m going to die for no other reason than I am black and my skin color is somehow a threat.’ My life flashed before my eyes as I thought of my girls.”
Apparently another thought later crossed his mind: How this story fits neatly into his decision to kneel for the anthem. Now equipped with personal experience, Bennett vowed to continue Kaepernick’s protest this season. Additionally, Bennett said he had hired Oakland-based civil rights attorney John Burris to investigate the case.
But there’s one problem when a famous professional athlete takes on an entire profession and city’s police department: video. Once Bennett shared his story, and social justice warriors lapped it up without any proof, the Las Vegas Police Department began their own investigation, and the meager results so far contradict Bennett’s story.
What the Videos Show
On Thursday afternoon, LVPD’s labor union released a statement asking NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to “conduct an investigation, and take appropriate action, into Michael Bennett’s obvious false allegations against our officers.” The union said Bennett hid from officers behind a slot machine before bolting outside and hopping over a four-foot barrier wall, which could fairly be construed as suspicious behavior during an active-shooter scenario. Bennett allegedly continued to hide from officers there until they discovered him.
Once a story goes viral, and there’s video to accompany it, there’s no stopping it. This writer speaks from personal experience. Nothing can ruin a person, a story, or a false claim more than video. It’s a reality of a world of click-bait digital media. According to the LVPD, they have more than 120 clips of video of Bennett’s incident, which they promised to closely examine.
The union’s statement to Goodell concluded with, “Michael Bennett’s claim that our officers are racist is false and offensive to the men and women of law enforcement. We hope you will take appropriate action against Michael Bennett.”
Here’s what we saw in released footage so far, just a few of the 120 clips recorded: The LVPD body-camera footage shows many African-American casino patrons were in the officers’ vicinity. Thus, it’s difficult to imagine one person in that crowd being singled out solely for the color of his skin. In fact, Bennett’s attorney told Matt Markovitch of KOMO-TV that race wasn’t a factor in Bennett’s arrest but lack of probable cause was.
In a press conference, Las Vegas Police Department Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said “I see no evidence that race played a role in this incident.” Yet Bennett’s original tweeted statement centered on racial profiling as reason for detainment, saying Las Vegas police officers singled him out for “doing nothing more than simply being a black man at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
If police officers are responding to a possible shooter and detect suspicious activity from an individual, it’s not only natural, it’s part of their job to track down anyone acting erratically. Should police officers let anyone just run away from the scene of the crime if the person is not Caucasian?
What Bennett Says Versus What Police Say
Bennett’s story does afford plausibility. The arresting officer did not turn on his body-camera, so we have no idea what all was communicated to Bennett. Without that video, it’s hard to confirm or refute Bennett’s allegations that the officer “forcefully jammed his knee into his back.”
Bennett also claimed he was handcuffed so tightly his thumbs grew numb. It is not uncommon for officers to use force when detaining suspects, but the extent of what’s appropriate is difficult to determine without witnesses or other evidence. However, a main sticking point in Bennett’s allegations of excessive force is that the arresting officer held a gun to his head and threatened to blow it off. The LVPD statement did not deny Bennett’s gun to the head allegation. Yet, again, even if officers did use excessive force, so far there’s no evidence it was related to race.
McMahill informed the media the police held Bennett for 10 minutes. Bennett’s time in the cop car and treatment is what his attorney, Burris, said he intends on exploring through all evidence available. Burris told the Seattle Times that a lawsuit is “imminent, just not today.”
As a reporter with experience covering Bennett, it’s difficult to discredit his accusations. Bennett was vocal and bluntly honest with the media whether it came to his play, the Seahawks, or his views on life (both serious and zany). At 6’4 and 274 pounds, Bennett is a larger-than-life persona, both literally and figuratively. If even he would feel helpless in that situation, there’s no doubt we all would. Being held to the ground after fleeing for safety from a possible shooting is traumatic for anyone, including the strongest gladiators of our favorite sport.
But in today’s society so few people want to apply the same logic or understanding to law enforcement. Unlike our judicial system, the social media mob’s mentality is guilty before proven innocent, especially with police officers. The frequent assumption is that every cop racially profiles, and if someone tries to counter that argument he’ll hear some variation of “the police department will just try to protect its own.”
If civilians want “good” cops to step forward when a fellow cop acts violently or inappropriately, then they must also accept those same cops will come forward to defend their own when unjustly accused. This apparently is what the LVPD believes based on the evidence it has.
We Don’t Want Knee-Jerk Judgments Against Either Side
The hatred towards law enforcement that’s grown in our country is a sad phenomenon. The system isn’t perfect: Philando Castile and John Crawford’s deaths are proof of that. But how often do law enforcement critics bring up the fact that five police officers died in Dallas last year? Police officers can suffer gunshot wounds and other injuries just doing their job. Where’s the outrage then?
Police put their lives at risk for salaries that dwarf in comparison to the million-dollar athletes or television personalities who scorn them. Don’t you think the officers of the LVPD would rather be in the safe, comfy confines of a studio? They would probably love to talk sports for a living with bank accounts incomprehensible to the average American.
But they don’t get that luxury. Instead, they come home after putting their lives in danger to hear talking heads condemning their very existence. Officers see the athletes they help protect on game days kneeling to protest them. Go ahead and point out the protests are just about the “bad” ones. But every man and woman wearing a uniform is forced to see it and be under suspicion by association.
In the end, we may never truly learn who was in the wrong between Bennett and the LVPD. Unfortunately, to many in the quick-to-judge crowd, it doesn’t matter. Innocent or not, those police officers never stood a chance. The vitriolic public perception of law enforcement is as great a problem facing our society as the racial inequities within our justice system. One fuels the other, and the only result is disparity and hatred.