Michael Bennett and The Legacy of Racial Profiling


It had seemed as if we were going down that same old road.  Police brutality was getting headlines once more.  This time it involved a major athlete. About two weeks ago Michael Bennett posted an open letter to twitter claiming that police officers racially profiled him, used excess force and pointed a gun at his head threatening to “blow his fucking head off,” while he was walking back to his hotel after the Conor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather fight in Las Vegas on August 26th.  Along with the letter, Bennett also posted a still image released by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) of himself in handcuffs with an officer standing over him holding what appears to be a taser pointed towards his head.

The situation occurred after gunshots were thought to be fired at the Cromwell Casino and police raced to the scene.  At the point in which the police arrived, the casino was in a huge frenzy, and the LVMPD did not have a visual on the possible suspect(s). However, from there the situation gets incredibly dicey.  As usual there are two different stories being told by both sides. In his letter, Bennett claims he was simply walking home.  He claims that he was singled out because he was black and nothing more, and that excessive force was used.  He believes he had reason to be terrified for his life.

The LVMPD, however, views the situation quite differently. In a press statement by Kevin McMahill, the Undersheriff of the LVMPD, he claimed that as police officers “moved toward the nightclub, an individual later identified as Bennett was seen crouched down behind a gaming machine as the officers approached. Once Bennett was in the officer's view, he quickly ran out the south doors, jumped over a wall onto Flamingo Road East of Las Vegas Boulevard into traffic.” Just walking home, huh? As McMahill rightly pointed out later, this gave officers reasonable suspicion to give chase and detain Bennett until they could prove he wasn’t a suspect.  And isn’t that reasonable? Here you have a man found hiding, and as soon as police make contact with him, he bolts. The officers had no idea who fired the gun.  If that’s not reasonable suspicion, then I don’t know what is.  And to top it off, McMahill claimed Bennett was only in custody for a matter of 10 minutes.  

The video above was released by TMZ.  In it we see Bennett getting handcuffed with no signs of excessive force.  The only gun we see pulled in the video is by the second officer arriving at the scene, and it clearly looks like he’s just backing up his partner.  He doesn’t point the gun at Bennett's head, and instead, he seems to be inspecting the surrounding area like he should be. After the rash of nightclub incidents we’ve seen get out of control over the past few years he has reason to be wary and he has reason protect his partner in case something else happens.  There’s no smoking gun in this video, and there's certainly no fire.  

The video is still inconclusive however, as it doesn’t capture the entire process of Bennett getting cuffed. And even if you do believe in the LVMPD’s police report, there are still some very concerning details about the way they handled this situation. While McMahill claimed that “Mr. Bennett, at the scene, had the incident explained to him by a supervisor and he said that he understood and that he had no problem with what the officers did,” he also mentioned that the officer detaining Bennett failed to turn on his body camera.  That’s a big mistake by the detaining officer.  How can you forget to have your camera on?  Remember, the still image of Bennett posted to twitter shows an officer pointing a taser to his head, while the TMZ video fails to show that portion of the detainment.  Bennett doesn’t know what’s being pointed at his head.  And since the officer didn’t have his camera on, there's no proof as of yet whether he did or did not make the threat, but there should be. Secondly, McMahill never refuted the fact that the officer told Bennett he would “blow his head off,” but he did mention the fact that Bennett seemed unhappy with the way the officer treated him. Lastly, and this point is purely optical, McMahill said that he didn’t believe it could have been racial profiling because the two officers were Hispanic, which is a mind boggling statement to make. Just because you’re a minority does not mean you're void of racial biases.  All of those details can’t sit well in the public’s stomach.

The point of all this is that the waters are incredibly murky.  Right now, we don’t know what really happened.  Clearly, the LVMPD has made some disconcerting statements, and there are are some confusions they need to address. I mean, they’re undergoing an internal investigation for a reason.  Bennett on the other hand seems to have used a bit of hyperbole when he claimed he was solely walking back to his hotel.  And it’s hard to look at this situation and not think about his own personal agenda.  As he wrote in his open letter on twitter, Bennett has always had a “strong conviction that protesting or standing up for justice is just simply, the right thing to do.”  Bennett wants to be part of this fight.  He wants to help improve police brutality against African Americans in the United States. He wants to be directly involved and stand up for something he strongly believes in.  All those things are fine, but whether or not he actually has a case against the LVMPD is debatable.  At the same time, while he may not have been racially profiled, it’s very possible the use of excess force and a verbal threat were used against him.  

Until we get more video footage, and more facts start surfacing it’s impossible to know exactly what happened on the night of August 26th. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t take anything away from this situation as of yet.  Bennett ran from the police because he was scared of them. The TMZ video shows a man in panic and fear.  And in his open letter, he wrote, “My life flashed before my eyes as I thought of my girls. Would I ever play with them again? Or watch them have kids? Or be able to kiss my wife again and tell her I love her?”  To me that sounds honest. Whether or not Bennett actually needed to be scared is one thing, but the point is, he was, and that’s not something we should take lightly.  The fact is that Bennett has a right to be scared after everything that has happened in this country over the past couple of years and beyond. Even if he wasn’t being racially profiled, he most likely felt he was because that’s the way these situations seem to go in this country. And so whether or not Bennett comes out as a fraud, or the LVMPD is found to be guilty of Bennett’s claims, we still know that something in our system is seriously flawed because people should not be afraid of the people in charge of protecting them.  And so no matter the verdict, we still have giant problem on our hands.