Following the incident of police brutality against him on Sept. 9, former tennis star James Blake immediately called on the city of New York to take action. So far the events have resulted in very public apologies with Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, as well as a meeting between the trio earlier this week.
Blake said of the meeting, “I feel like we made a lot of progress, and we were all pleasantly surprised,” saying, “the whole team … [is] looking to move forward, and turning a negative incident into a positive.”
Of de Blasio himself, Blake also had positive things to say: “What he said that made me feel good was that in his heart he was on the same page as us [regarding these issues.]”
De Blasio, in turn, has spoken highly of the encounter Blake and also called the meeting “productive”: “[The meeting] was based on a shared commitment to accountability and a desire to build trust. We pledged a fair and expeditious investigation into his case, and to find further common ground as we continue the work of reform.”
However, Blake may not see the changes he hopes for because de Blasio has a history of speaking out about police brutality issues and not seeing solutions all the way through. Following the death of Eric Garner at the hands of police last July and the decision of the grand jury not to indict the officer responsible, de Blasio said, “It’s a very emotional day for our city. It’s a very painful day for so many New Yorkers — that is a core reality. We’re grieving again over the loss of Eric Garner.”
He also made a more emotional and personal statement regarding his son Dante who, like Blake, is biracial.
“A good young man, a law-abiding young man, who would never think to do anything wrong,” de Blasio said of his son, “and yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face — [my wife and I have] had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.”
De Blasio also introduced a three-day retraining program that all officers would have to participate in, which included ways to deescalate situations. (Incidentally, Frascatore has not completed the program.) “The relationship between police and community has to change. The way we go about policing has to change,” he explained at the time. “People need to know that black lives and brown lives matter as much as white lives.”
The mayor’s implications about the NYPD caused a rift between him and the police, though. Around that time, NYPD detectives Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were tragically murdered, and members of the NYPD turned their backs to de Blasio at the funerals, feeling de Blasio had betrayed them by encouraging protestors following the Eric Garner grand jury verdict.
Ed Mullions, head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said in a statement “Mayor de Blasio, the blood of these two officers is clearly on your hands. It is your failed policies and actions that enabled these tragedies to occur. I only hope and pray that more of these ambushes and executions do not happen again.” Other people echoed Mullions’s belief that police blood was on de Blasio’s hands, and a petition circulated demanding de Blasio resign from his position.
Several months later, likely influenced by this public outcry, de Blasio completely changed his tune regarding police and community relations. Following the protests that took place after the death of Freddie Gray, he said in a press conference, “One thing’s clear, when the police give you an instruction, you follow the instruction. It’s not debatable. And I’m saying this as someone who has been at these protests and recognize when the police say stay to the sidewalk, it means stay to the sidewalk, and that has to be respected.”
It has not escaped many people that Blake’s status has resulted in his case getting more attention from both the media and New York City officials (including a personal text message from de Blasio to Blake) than other cases of police brutality. However, what is not clear is whether Blake’s influence will keep his case at the forefront for the mayor or if de Blasio will, once again, back down under pressure.
By Kaitlyn D’Onofrio for diversityinc.com