Mercury in Retrograde: Las Vegas Cops Assault NFL Star Michael Bennett
“Bennett didn’t speak out for more than a week because he didn’t want to distract attention from the suffering in Houston, his hometown.”
The stars were in the bars and Mercury was in retrograde when Las Vegas cops jumped NFL star Michael Bennett, held a gun to his head, and threatened to blow it off. How else could they have chosen the perfect target to prove that the U.S. is a racist police state? Unless maybe Uranus was in Las Vegas? How else could their police union have followed up with a letter imploring NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to investigate Bennett for defaming them by telling his story and claiming that the LVPD had racially profiled him? You can’t make this stuff up.
Bennett isn’t just a Seattle Seahawks defensive end whose record includes eight sacks and three recovered fumbles in the Seahawks Super Bowl XLVIII victory over the Denver Broncos. He’s also a devoted family man married to his high school girlfriend Pele. Together, he and his wife and their three daughters co-authored a children’s book, “Three Little Monsters Have A Wild Day.” They love to garden together, and their family foundation funds child nutrition, education in minority communities, and gardening for kids in juvenile detention.
Bennett’s working on a sports memoir called “How to Make White People Uncomfortable” with sportswriter and critic David Zirin. In The Nation, Zirin writes, “Michael Bennett has taken the great risk of coming forward for the simple reason that he knows he has the money and resources to stand up in a way that so many people hurt by police violence do not.”
Solidarity with Colin Kaepernick
The Seahawks played the Los Angeles Chargers in their first preseason game on August 13, the day after the racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Bennett chose to remain on the bench during the national anthem, continuing former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality and other forms of oppression in the Black community. He told the press that he’d been thinking about continuing the protest all summer long, but that Charlottesville had strengthened his resolve, and that he planned to remain seated during the anthem throughout the season. In a statement published by the Seattle Times, he said:
“First of all I want to make sure people understand I love the military — my father was in the military. I love hot dogs like any other American. I love football like any other American. But I don’t love segregation, I don’t love riots, I don’t love oppression. I don’t love gender slander. I just want to see people have the equality that they deserve and I want to be able to use this platform to continuously push the message and keep finding out how unselfish we can be in society, how we can continuously love one another and understand that people are different. And just because people are different doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t like them. Just because they don’t eat what you eat, just because they don’t pray to the same God you pray to doesn’t mean you should hate them. Whether it is Muslim, whether it is Buddhist, whether it is Christianity, I just want people to understand that no matter what, we need to stay together. It’s more about being a human being at this point.”
“I love football like any other American. But I don’t love segregation, I don’t love riots, I don’t love oppression.”
Bennett didn’t speak out about being assaulted by the Las Vegas Police for more than a week because he didn’t want to distract attention from the suffering in Houston, his hometown, after Hurricane Harvey. On August 31, he announced that his family foundation would donate $25,000 to help the victims and said he felt devastated by the suffering.
Then, on the morning of September 6, he tweeted a “Dear World” letter describing what had happened to him after the August 26 Mayweather-McGregor boxing match. He said he was on the Las Vegas Strip, heading back to his hotel around 1:30 a.m. on August 27 when “several hundred people heard what sounded like gun shots” and fled to safety:
“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 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 . . . 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.
“My life flashed before my eyes.”
“The officers’ use of excessive 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. 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?”
On the same day that Bennett tweeted his letter about what happened to him in Vegas, a white woman suspected of shoplifting slipped out of her handcuffs, stole a police SUV, and led Lufkin, Texas police on a high-speed chase. When she finally drove off the road, officers helped her out of the SUV before re-arresting her. Know Your Rights Camp tweeted the video with the text “I would say this is unbelievable, but it's privilege.”
John Burris takes the case
Famed civil rights litigator John Burris, of the John Burris Law Offices in Oakland, California, has agreed to represent Bennett, possibly in a civil action. On September 8, the firm released a statement in which they said:
“Over the last several days, the Las Vegas Metro Police Department and its union have begun a smear campaign aimed at demonizing and besmirching the character of Michael Bennett. This victim shaming is a common tactic used by police when they are caught violating a person’s rights. The LVMPD’s press conference and the union’s letter to the NFL is an old tactic routinely used to try to intimidate police abuse victims and engender resentment against them by providing misinformation to the public. Mr. Bennett has absolutely no reason to concoct a story. The involved officers, on the other hand, have every reason to concoct a story in order to cover-up the violations of Mr. Bennett’s constitutionally protected rights.
“Now, LVMPD claims they are investigating whether Mr. Bennett was involved in an altercation immediately before the incident. Mr. Bennett unequivocally denies this trumped up, red herring type allegation. Mr. Bennett’s message is clear and resounding; neither he nor anyone else similarly situated should be treated in this manner and he firmly believes this type of misconduct and abuse should not be condoned by LVMPD, the LVMPD Police Union or the public.”
I’m not going to Israel
Michael Bennett’s September 6 “Dear World” letter was far from his first to stir controversy. Earlier this year, on February 9, he tweeted a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King and Kwame Ture (born Stokely Carmichael) with the text, “I’m not going to Israel.” In the Dear World letter that followed on February 10, he explained that he had decided not to go when he learned that his “itinerary was being constructed by the Israeli government for the purposes of making me, in the words of a government official, an ‘influencer and opinion-former’ who would then be ‘an ambassador of good will.'”
“I will not be used in such a manner,” he wrote. “When I go to Israel — and I do plan to go — it will be to see not only Israel but also the West Bank and Gaza so I can see how the Palestinians, who have called this land home for thousands of years, live their lives.”
He went on to say that Muhammad Ali is one of his heroes, that “Ali always stood strongly with the Palestinian people,” and that he wants to be a “voice for the voiceless.”
Bennett made his statement after David Zirin published “Open Letter to NFL Players Traveling to Israel on a Trip Organized by Netanyahu’s Government” signed by Angela Davis, Harry Belafonte, Michelle Alexander, Danny Glover, Boots Riley, Dr. John Carlos, Marc Lamont Hill, Alicia Garza, and others.
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at [email protected]