Retired tennis star James Blake recalls getting tackled, handcuffed by police before the 2015 U.S. Open

George Floyd’s death in police custody late last month, and the massive protests across the country that have followed, have sparked a much larger conversation about racism and police brutality in the United States.

Retired tennis star James Blake, in an appearance on The Tonight Show on Wednesday night, again opened up about a scary run-in he had with police while he was on his way to the U.S. Open in 2015.

"I was waiting for the car to take me to the Open and just waiting outside my hotel when an officer ran up and just ran into me, slammed me into the wall and threw me on the ground, handcuffed me and had me in custody for about 10 to 15 minutes without me doing anything," Blake told host Jimmy Fallon. "I was standing there just ready to get to the Open and they said I looked like a suspect. Turns out, the suspect was for a credit card scam they were running. Nothing violent. No reason, in my opinion, to necessarily tackle someone."

Blake — who had 10 career singles wins and climbed as high as No. 4 in the world rankings — said the officer pinned him down to the pavement and put his knee in his back while he was being handcuffed and instantly told him, “Shut your mouth. Put your arms back.”

“At that point, it's 2015, there were still already plenty of signs in the media, plenty of cases of police violence of Black men and women being killed or harmed by the police,” Blake said. “So, my first thought is back to the conversation I had with my dad, back to all those instances and my first statement was, ‘I'm complying 100 percent. Whatever you say, I'm complying 100 percent.’ 

“Because I know I don't want to be a stat and everything else can be figured out afterwards, you know, any legal battles, their mistake in identity. Whatever it is, it can be figured out later. But, you just comply.

“It's really a sad situation. It's really a sad state of affairs that there has to be that set of rules and every black man in this country pretty much knows those — that you have to be completely emasculated. You have to do whatever they say.”

Blake said he believes one of the officers finally looked him up on his phone, which is when they realized they had made a mistake. Despite that, however, he never received an apology from any of the officers.

“The only thing he said as he let me go was that the person they were looking for is still in the area, which doesn't have any effect on me,” he said. “I got an apology from [New York City mayor Bill] de Blasio and an apology from the police commissioner when they realized what happened and they realized there was a video out there. But never an apology from [the officer].”

Blake finally got justice, though not much

It took Blake years to get justice after the incident.

When he finally did, however, it wasn’t very satisfying. He described the officer’s punishment as, “a slap on the wrist.”

"And in terms of trying to get justice, I tried so hard," Blake said. "I mean, this is why I'm so encouraged right now by today's events is that I screamed and yelled for two years, it took, for me to get any sort of an internal trial against this police officer, to try to get any sort of accountability. And all he lost was five vacation days for this and it was his fifth incident.

"He'd had four others, all against African American men — one when he broke a guy's jaw — and he lost five vacation days. And they said he couldn't be fired because it's just not fair because the precedent before this for cases like this weren't that strict. That's where it just needs to be changed.”

But after seeing the mass protests that have continued consistently since Floyd’s death late last month, and all four officers involved in his arrest having been arrested themselves, Blake is thrilled with the progress that’s been made.

“I was so encouraged by the fact that people cared. People really in this country have not become totally desensitized,” Blake said. “They haven’t become numb to this. And to see that the protests happened so quickly, so genuinely, and that they got immediate results. I don’t know if the four officers would have been charged if it wasn’t for the protests … To get criminal charges is huge, and that’s a big step in the right direction for accountability. I think it shows that people caring and the majority that actually cares in this country can make a difference when they speak loudly enough.”

Former tennis athlete and author James Blake, who was tackled and handcuffed by police officers in a case of mistaken identity in front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel during the 2015 U.S. Open, in Manhattan, New York on August 31, 2017. (Kevin Hagen for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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