NYPD Brutalizes Wrong Innocent Man

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Earlier this week, former tennis star James Blake was manhandled and detained by the NYPD. The arresting officer had mistaken Blake for a suspect in an credit card fraud ring. Commissioner Bill Bratton quickly called Blake and apologized. That strikes me as the right thing to do. But what of the original suspect? The Times offers a detail that should not be overlooked:

The team of officers, looking for suspects in a credit card fraud ring, were relying on a courier who identified Mr. Blake as one of the buyers, the police said. The officers also had an Instagram photo of someone believed to be involved. That person, who Mr. Bratton said looked like Mr. Blake’s “twin brother,” turned out to have no role in the scheme.

The suspect allegedly looked like Mr. Blake’s “twin brother.” But that “twin brother” was innocent. It’s very easy to imagine the NYPD giving the same treatment they gave Blake to another innocent man. And then it’s worth asking whether an apology would be forthcoming from anyone, and whether any of us would be talking about this at all. When you have an incident like this it becomes a kind of spectacle, but to understand what’s really been driving the conversation the past few months, it’s essential to think beyond the celebrity factor. The question isn’t simply whether the NYPD treated Blake unfairly. It’s how many others are treated unfairly and written off simply as the cost of doing business.