New York Assemblyman Michael Blake, who just last week spoke with DiversityInc about racial profiling and the need for criminal justice reform, was himself roughly handled by police this weekend in a situation he says was heightened because he is Black.Blake was one of 40 national leaders who appeared on stage Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention during the “Our America” segment.
Blake tweeted about the incident on Saturday:
I had a terrible encounter with an officer today. Surreal his response. I will share more soon. Stay tuned. This must end soon on both sides
Michael Blake (@MrMikeBlake) July 31, 2016
The 34-year-old assemblyman, who represents the 79th district in the Bronx, filed a formal notice Saturday night with the Civilian Complaint Review Board against an NYPD officer, claiming he used excessive force.
“I do believe that the level of response was far heightened because I’m a Black man no question,” Blake said in an interview with the New York Times on Sunday.
He said thaton Saturday afternoon he was attending a family event on East 169th Street and Washington Avenue, which is within his district. When he saw a woman in handcuffs, he went up to officers involved to find out what had happened.
Blake said an argument then broke out behind him, and as he attempted to go toward the confrontation, an officer “bear-hugged him, lifted him off the ground and ‘slammed’ him against a gate outside the housing complex.” The officer, he said, is Hispanic.
During a press conference on Monday morning in front of 1 Police Plaza, Blake said the incident occurred atapproximately 3:37 p.m.
“You all don’t know how it feels,” Blake began, “when you work as hard as I do for my community and to be treated the way I was treated on Saturday,” he said overcome with emotion.
According to the NYPD, Blake approached a sergeant from behind and put his hand on his shoulder without identifying himself. The officer thought the sergeant was being threatened and moved Blake out of the way.
However, Blake said he did not have time to identify himself as an elected official before he was grabbed “within seconds” and tossed into a gate. And he did not recall touching the sergeant but added that even if he did “in the heat of the second, that didn’t justify what happened.”
Blake said at the press conference that the only reason he was released was because senior officers who knew himintervened.
“There’s a great concern that a person can be an elected official, in the heart of the district you serve, and the officers don’t recognize you,” he said.
City officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have apologized for the incident. But Blake said he wants a “face to face” with NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton, along withan apology and an explanation.
The officer involved apologized, but, according to the Times, Blake said it fell short of “acknowledgement of fault.”
“Because I believe in standing up to injustice, I decided to file a complaint against the officer and speak about the incident,” he said. “It is important to fight for transparency and accountability so I can’t remain silent on this critical issue of justice.”
Blake, a former White House aide for President Barack Obama,expressed the same sentiment during a panel discussion on criminal justice reform Tuesday in downtown Philadelphia moderated by Van Jones, CNN contributor, president of The Dream Corps and co-founder of #cut50, a bipartisan effort to cut the U.S. prison population in half.
In an interview with DiversityInc immediately following the panel, Blake said:
“If we want to face the challenges that relate to racial profiling, and the challenges in our communities, we have to address this in a collective manner. We have to be realistic in saying how we hire and train more officers that look like the community.
“Look, 99 percent of officers are doing the right thing. There’s no question about that. But for the ones that may have that initial fear, may have that initial instinct of trying to figure out what they do, the only way we can really move the needle is by making them more aware of the community and making them understand that we together have more things in common than apart.”
Before the incident on Saturday, Blake posted a photo on Instagram from the Democratic National Convention: