Michael Bennett, one of the NFL’s most vocal critics of racial injustice, has said police threatened to shoot him last month in Las Vegas for “simply being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time”.
The Seattle Seahawks defensive end says the incident took place as he was heading back to his hotel after attending the Conor McGregor v Floyd Mayweather fight, and heard what sounded like gunshots.
“I ran away from the sound, looking for safety,” he wrote in a statement posted to Twitter on Thursday. “Las Vegas police officers singled me out and pointed their guns at me for doing nothing more than simply being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“A police officer ordered me to get on the ground. As I lay on the ground … he placed his gun near my head and warned me that if I moved he would ‘blow my fucking head off’. A second officer came over and forcefully jammed his knee into my back, making it difficult for me to breathe.”
TMZ has released video of the incident, and there may be wider repercussions: Bennett says he has retained civil rights attorney John Burris and is exploring “all my legal options”.
“It is important to note, Mr Bennett was unarmed, sober and not involved in any altercations or dispute at the time the police officers arrested and threatened to use deadly force against him,” Burris said in a statement. “The officers’ conduct is particularly outrageous in that there was no basis upon which to select Mr Bennett from a crowd of people all running for their lives. He did nothing wrong.”
Bennett said he was terrified during the incident. “I felt helpless as I lay there,” he wrote. “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’.”
Bennett says he was detained in the back of a police car until he was released when officers recognized him as an NFL player and not “a thug, common criminal or ordinary black man”.
The 31-year-old has been vocal in his support of Colin Kaepernick, who has yet to find an NFL team after refusing to stand for the national anthem last season in a protest against racial injustice. Bennett says he intends to do the same: “I sit during the national anthem because equality doesn’t live in this country and no matter how much money you make, what job title you have. When you are seen as a ‘nigger’ you will be treated that way.”
Kaepernick offered his support for Bennett on Wednesday. “This violation that happened against my brother Michael Bennett is disgusting and unjust,” Kaepernick wrote on Twitter. “I stand with Michael and I stand with the people.”
In response, the Las Vegas police department said on Wednesday that they were responding to reports of a shooter at a casino at the time of Bennett’s arrest. Clark County undersheriff Kevin McMahill said Bennett didn’t stop when officers saw him running away from the casino. McMahill added internal affairs investigators are reviewing video footage to determine exactly what happened.
Bennett is writing a book, titled Things That Make White People Uncomfortable. “I think the title is just a title to start a conversation so people want to read it,” Bennett has said. “The book I’m focusing on is issues that I see that are important in America, and they are my views and opinion.”
Read more at theguardian.com