Michael Bennett’s Treatment Was (Un)Justified
Yesterday, Michael Bennett (of the two football-playing Bennett brothers) came forward with a story of being pulled out of a crowd in Las Vegas after somebody had allegedly fired a gun. Bennett says he was thrown to the ground, his life explicitly threatened, and only eventually let go after officers figured out that he was a celebrity of sorts. He claims that one of the officers pointed a gun at his head. Because he is who he has always been, he minces no words about what happened.
“A police officer ordered me to get on the ground. As I laid on the ground, complying with his commands not to move, he placed his gun near my head and warned me that if I moved he would “blow my fucking head off.” Terrified and confused by what was taking place, a second Officer came over and forcefully jammed his knee into my back making it difficult for me to breathe. They then cinched the handcuffs on my wrists so tight that my fingers went numb.”
Bennett is one of many NFL players who has protested during pre-game national anthem ceremonies. Bennett’s protest – sitting during the anthem – began during a preseason game in August and he has explained that he will continue to do so all season. Presumably, his experience in Las Vegas will only serve to further harden his already steely will on the matter.
“But surely it wasn’t that bad,” will go the usual internet commentators who are always and immediately willing to dismiss police brutality visited against people that those commentators never cared about in the first place. They will watch the same video available to everybody else but will conclude that yes, of course, Bennett deserved to get picked out of a crowd fleeing gun shots, and that yes, of course, Bennett deserved to have officers mount his back, and that yes, of course, Bennett deserved to have his life threatened, and that yes, of course, Bennett deserved to be cuffed, and that yes, of course, Bennett deserved to have a gun pointed at his head. This blithely assumes, though, that Bennett will be believed in the first place.
ESPN’s Dan LeBatard ran into this sort of disbelief yesterday and was absolutely aghast, excoriating his own show’s fans for the responses he received in the immediate aftermath of retelling Bennett’s story.
LeBatard’s reaction is the same as so many other people, all wondering what exactly it would actually take to make the other side flinch, to make the other side say, “That was too much.”
America’s debate on policing is literally one side either pleading reasonably to be treated the same as everybody else or pleading for minorities to be treated the same as everybody else, and the other side insisting that nothing is out of bounds. It appears that quite literally no story is too much to move the needle. It didn’t move when police opened fire after talking with an unarmed man laying on the ground, mercifully and miraculously not killing Charles Kinsey. It didn’t move when police opened fire after talking with a concealed carrier, killing Philando Castile. It didn’t move when police opened fire seconds after arriving on the scene, killing Tamir Rice and John Crawford. The needle stays stuck, unflinching, unmoving, unwavering.
To give some idea of just how profoundly bad this situation is, Bennett is frankly lucky, despite having been tackled, threatened, and handcuffed, to have emerged able to righteously and angrily respond to it. Plenty of other people – including all of the ones mentioned above but so many more too – are not nearly so able after their own interactions with American police. The statistics that occasionally surface to underpin this belief are themselves staggering. There are websites full of them, all of them and always pointing to the same conclusion: minority populations, and particularly African-American populations, are being treated differently than white populations are.
To that end, we have the Las Vegas Police Protective Association Metro, Inc.’s response, as written by Detective Steve Grammas, the organization’s president. It is not an apology for tackling, threatening, and cuffing an unarmed man. It is, instead, an explicit demand that the NFL investigate Bennett for responding to having been tackled, threatened, and cuffed. Vanessa Murphy has the response, which focuses upon Bennett’s response to his treatment:
“On behalf of the rank and file members of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, I request that you conduct an investgation, and take appropriate action, into Michael Bennett’s obvious false allegations against our officers. 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 officers.”
“Michael Bennett’s claim that our officers are racists is false and offensive to the men and women of law enforcement. We hope that you will take appropriate action against Michael Bennett. I am available to meet with you and will provide any other information you deem necessary.”
Grammas’s request is the same sort of the response that we always see in this cases, in which thin-skinned police organizations insist that whatever they have done was unquestionably the correct thing to have done and that anybody who concludes otherwise is outrageously disrespectful. But Grammas’s letter has one more tidbit worth exploring and better understand, something that gets to the heart of the problem:
“We believe that a fair investigation will establish that our officers responded to one of the most dangerous calls a law enforcement officer can be assigned- an active shooter firing rounds in a crowded casino. As our uniformed officers entered the casino, they observed Bennett hiding behind a slot machine. When officers turned towards Bennett, he bolted out of the casino, leaped over four (4) foot barrier wall, and hid from officers as he crouched close to the wall on the sidewalk.
I am sure that your attorney will tell you, our officers had reasonable suspicion, which is the constitutional standard, to detain Bennett until the could determine where he was involved in the shooting. Our officers, who are both minorities, had the legal right, and obligation, to detain Bennett based upon the nature of the call and Bennett’s unusual and suspicious actions.”
For the sake of this, let’s take everything that Grammas wrote at face value, even though we very obviously should not do that given Grammas’s previous, and entirely unrelated, mention of the flag. Let’s also ignore Grammas having mentioned the officers’ race, although, good grief. Rather, let’s focus on the insistence that Bennett’s behavior in responding to those officers was both “unusual and suspicious.” What Grammas is doing here is denying Bennett’s humanity, the same thing that those responding to LeBatard above were doing, and the same thing that everybody who ends up siding with Grammas is going to be doing.
Grammas apparently believes, wholly and without reservation, that Bennett should have done something else in that moment, that his instinct to flee and to hide (assuming, again, that either claim is actually true) were simply wrong. But look at that first sentence and note that Grammas is explaining the understood danger of the situation – “our officers responded to one of the most dangerous calls a law enforcement officer can be assigned” – while simultaneously denying Bennett his right to flee and hide from that situation. But Grammas goes further, insisting that Bennett’s response to the situation was not only unreasonable but so “unusual and suspicious” that it justified his abuse at the hands of the police. And then, as his coup de grace, Grammas simply ignores why it is exactly Bennett might not have seen those approaching police officers as his saviors.
This all assumes that Grammas’s telling of the story is entirely accurate. As previously stated, that is an awfully big assumption. And, as evidence of its potentially dubious nature, a very curious thing happened when the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) went to looking for additional footage to contextualize the incident: it wasn’t available. The police officer who allegedly threatened Bennett kept his body camera off. And as if it double down on that camera being kept off, the LVMPD could not justify its own behavior. At a press conference designed to defuse the situation, the LVMPD’s Undersheriff Kevin McMahill could not explain why Bennett was detained, but did confirm that officers drew guns on him anyway. “I really can’t answer that as of yet,” was McMahill’s official comment, when asked to offer any explanation for Bennett’s treatment.
It must be a hell of a thing to not know what is so plainly clear to so many others.
*Unstated, although plainly implied, is that there is no distance too far for police to go when dealing with people that those debaters do not like. If it was their own family, the response would almost certainly change.