Assault of tennis champion James Blake renews spotlight on police racism, violence

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New York City Police Officer James Frascatore has given new meaning to the Grand Slam of tennis. Last week, he violently assaulted retired tennis champion James Blake in front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, tackling Blake as he was waiting for a ride to watch the U.S. Open. Blake, a 35-year-old African-American, was formerly the top men's tennis player in the United States, was fourth in the world and has scores of trophies from around the globe. Blake didn't know what hit him.

If the New York Police Department had taken previous charges against Frascatore seriously, Blake would have never been attacked. Frascatore is white and has been with the NYPD for four years, and in that short time has provoked multiple lawsuits alleging police brutality and excessive force, as well as numerous complaints to the police oversight Civilian Complaint Review Board. So, while James Blake has long excelled on the court, James Frascatore excels at being sued in court. Frascatore has a clear pattern of racist violence against innocent citizens. It is only because he assaulted a man of means, a celebrity, captured on video, that his conduct is under scrutiny. Both Police Commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio have called Blake and apologized.

Warren Diggs is still waiting for his calls of apology from the two men. On Jan. 13, 2013, he was riding his bicycle home in the neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens. As he reached his driveway, he told us, speaking on the Democracy Now! news hour: "I go down the driveway, and on the way down, I hear somebody yell to me, 'Stop! Where are you going? Where are you going?' So, I'm not sure if it's for me, because, you know, there's no reason for it, but there's nobody else outside at this time."

He went on: "Officer Frascatore, two other officers come running down the driveway. 'Where you going? Where you going?' I said, 'I'm going home. What's the problem?' They said, 'What's your name? Do you have any ID?' I said, 'My name is Warren. Yes, I have ID, but I don't have it on me. It's inside.'"

Diggs slowly pulled the keys from his pocket and unlocked the two doors to his home. "As soon as my second foot reaches the landing, Frascatore grabs me, tries to pull me out and just spins me around," he continued. "I asked him, like, 'What's the problem?' The other officer grabs my other arm, and they both yank me out into the driveway. So I'm saying, 'What is the problem? What is this about?' Frascatore punches me in the side of the head. The officer that was behind me, he grabs me around my waist, picks me up, he slams me on the ground."

It was dark, and no one was around to witness the beating. Warren Diggs choked up with emotion as he continued to recount his ordeal: "Frascatore drops down on me. The guy behind me hits me in my back. I'm getting hit all in my side. I see two other cops come down the ramp. And I'm getting hit, I'm getting hit. I'm asking, what are they doing, what are they doing? Nobody's saying anything to me, so I start screaming for my girlfriend to come outside. I'm calling her, calling her, calling her, and she doesn't respond. So I just start screaming, 'Help! Help! Help! Help!' over and over again, louder and louder, as loud as I could."

"A hand appears in front of me," he went on. "I get maced in my forehead. I close my eyes, and I'm getting hit and getting hit. I hear again, 'Mace him again. Mace him again.' I get maced a second time. I'm still getting hit."

Nafeesah Hines, Diggs' girlfriend, came outside, at which time Diggs said the beating stopped. She took his bicycle inside as the police led Diggs to the squad car. Hines made an audio recording of what followed, capturing a chilling exchange as police forced their way into her house and arrested her, as well, for "tampering with evidence." That's right: since the police accused Diggs of riding on the sidewalk, the bike was evidence. Diggs didn't know that his girlfriend had been arrested until he saw her later, at the station, handcuffed to a bench in her nightgown. In the station, Diggs was subjected to racial slurs. They said he looked like an animal, and lived in the jungle. Diggs had been so badly beaten and maced, a medic asked that he be released into her custody, but the police refused.

Ultimately, all charges against Diggs and Hines were dropped. Diggs filed a federal lawsuit against Officers James Frascatore, Timothy Costello, Alex Lombardozzi, Jared Hospedales and others present whose names are not yet known. But these are just civil charges. The NYPD and Mayor de Blasio must take swift action. James Blake and others have called for his assailant to be fired. But Frascatore and his co-conspirators should be arrested. They are a threat to public safety.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column was first published on TruthDig.

Photo: angela n./flickr

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