Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett alleged racist abuse at the hands of two Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) officers following a boxing match. Today (September 13), a predominantly Black group of athletes, activists, artists, scholars and writers demanded accountability and critiqued the police department and the local officer union for their actions via a letter published by The Nation’s Dave Zirin.
“We condemn this act of racial profiling and excessive force perpetrated by the Vegas police against Mr. Bennett,” states the letter, whose signatories include Zirin, Black Power movement leader Angela Davis, Olympian sprinter and activist John Carlos, journalist and educator Melissa Harris-Perry, artist andactivist Bree Newsome and Black Lives Matter co-creators Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. Bennett’s friend and fellow racial justice advocate Colin Kaepernick also signed the letter, as did Kaepernick’s former San Francisco 49ers teammates Eric Reid and Christopher Borland.
The letter goes on to criticize the LVMPD and the officer union’s responses to Bennett’s allegations, including the union’s denied request that the NFL investigate the player:
This story is awful enough. The response by the Las Vegas police union has been even worse. They have issued a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell calling for Bennett to be investigated for “obvious false allegations against our officers.” Instead of refuting these allegations, the police union made reference to Bennett’s protests of the national anthem, writing, “While the NFL may condone Bennett’s disrespect for our American Flag, and everything it symbolizes, we hope the league will not ignore Bennett’s false accusations against our police officers.” They are, in effect, using Bennett’s political protest as a pretext to investigate him.
Since Bennett publicized his encounter with the LVMPD, a spokesperson for the police has confirmed that it is conducting an investigation of Bennett to determine “whether Mr. Bennett was involved in the altercation at the hotel casino prior to his detention on Las Vegas Boulevard.” This is clearly an act of retaliation against Bennett for speaking out against police brutality. It is also a gesture of intimidation against anyone else who would dare challenge the right of the Las Vegas police department to act with impunity. This is unacceptable.
Michael Bennett has been sitting during the anthem precisely to raise these issues of racist injustice that are now an intimate part of his life. Now we stand with him.
Bennett, who retweeted the letter, also spoke about the allegations for the first time on television. This morning’s episode of ABC’s “Good Morning America” ran segments of his interview with ABC News’ Byron Pitts, which will run in full tonight on the network’s “Nightline.” Bennett reiterated his allegations about the LVMPD officers’ treatment, including that an involved officer threatened to “blow his fucking head off” if he moved and that the officers only released him after confirming his identity as a famous athlete.
Entertainment news outlet TMZ, whose previously leaked video of Bennett’s arrest, quotes the football player as telling Pitts, “Unless something changes drastically that we don’t know of, we’re gonna file a lawsuit.” Neither Bennett nor his lawyer John Burris have confirmed a lawsuit as of press time.