The wrongful arrest of Milwaukee Bucks forward Sterling Brown from January 2018 still resonates as the topic of police brutality remains as an ever-present reality for people of color.
As the NBA and the Milwaukee Bucks begin planning to make their return to the 2019-20 season, I’m finding it hard to focus on anything related to basketball.
Over the last week, the wave of protests seen all over the United States have captivated everyone’s attention, all of which stems from the recent tragic and horrifying killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, along with the countless examples before them of black people being killed by police officers all over the country.
As a white male, I own up to the fact that I have never experienced such fears when interacting with people designed to protect and serve communities around the country and people of all colors. Nothing I’ve gone through in my life can compare to the all-too-present reality that is back in the minds of many people of color.
By no means was it an entry point for me into race relations, but the events of the last two weeks have also obviously made me think about third-year Bucks wing Sterling Brown.
In the early morning hours of January 26, 2018, Brown was unlawfully arrested by the Milwaukee Police Department after he had illegally parked in two parking spaces.
For what should have been a mere parking violation at most, the then-22-year-old was eventually thrown on the ground by a horde of police officers and subsequently tasered before being handcuffed and wrongfully arrested. Brown was later released that Friday morning and even played in the Bucks’ home game versus the Brooklyn Nets that night, hours after being unlawfully arrested and detained.
The police department didn’t pursue charges, but it wasn’t until the body camera footage from that fateful winter night was released on May 24, 2018, that the full breadth of how the many officers involved escalated the situation by using intimidation and physically overpowering Brown for what was a minor offense was put on full, public display.
Brown officially filed a civil rights suit against the city of Milwaukee and the police department a few weeks after the body camera footage was released to the public. Brown’s attorney, Mark Thomsen, provided the following statement as Martenzie Johnson of The Undefeated relayed in June of 2018:
“I’m convinced that the only way to get [City Hall’s] attention and the citizens’ attention is to file a federal civil rights suit,” Thomsen said. “I’m hoping that all of America is watching, because Sterling Brown knows that this is not a problem just with Milwaukee. I wish and I hope that Milwaukee becomes a model of how to turn it around for the country. Frankly, I’m tired of being known as the most segregated city in America. I’m tired of what that means economically. I’m tired of what it means reputationally.”
Brown’s lawsuit against the city still remains unresolved after he and his legal team rejected a $400,000 settlement offer last fall to pursue a formal trial. As Sports Illustrated’s Michael McCann brilliantly broke down back in December of last year, the deadline to file for a pretrial motion comes next month on July 10 and a resolution to Brown’s case may not come for a few more years yet.
As Brown’s attorney noted, the fact that this incident occurred in Milwaukee, a city notoriously known for it’s deep-rooted segregation, poverty and high incarceration rates for black people relative to cities throughout the country, only made Brown’s story one of hundreds and thousands Milwaukeeans can tell.
That’s not to mention that the Milwaukee Police Department have had their fair share of highly publicized cases related to police brutality, as in the case of Frank Jude, and killings, such as Dontre Hamilton, in addition to having had charges of misconduct come about for various officers for stop-and-frisk searches on minorities.
The sad fact is that even when narrowing the focus to a Milwaukee Bucks prism, Sterling Brown doesn’t stand as the only player in recent memory that has experienced racial discrimination and prejudice while playing in Milwaukee.
In October 2015, Bucks big man John Henson was racially profiled by an employee at a jewelry store in Whitefish Bay, a Milwaukee suburb. Henson had originally inquired about purchasing a new Rolex watch, but was refused entry into the store as the employee locked the doors, made as if the store was closed and called the cops on the then-fourth year center.
Former Bucks forward Jabari Parker also recounted an incident to the Washington Post’s Candace Buckner last year where he was pulled over by police after parking his car to adjust the music and then being the subject of a call made to police for suspicious activity:
“But that’s just how it goes, right?” Parker said of the warnings and tickets he received following the traffic stops. “I already draw a lot of attention just because of who I am as a black man in the community where I lived at. Those things don’t align to a lot of people’s beliefs.”
Meanwhile, Bucks president Peter Feigin caused quite the stir back in September of 2016 when he pointed out the obvious by saying that Milwaukee was the most segregated, racist place he’s comes across in his life:
“Very bluntly, Milwaukee is the most segregated, racist place I’ve ever experienced in my life. It just is a place that is antiquated. It is in desperate need of repair and has happened for a long, long time. One of our messages and one of our goals is to lead by example.”
To Feigin and the organization’s credit, they have largely led by example, whether it’s been teaming up with the Sacramento Kings to launch a joint initiative called ‘Team Up for Change’, or making a visit to the Racine Correctional Institution earlier this season along with former player and Racine native Caron Butler.
Even two-and-a-half years later, video of Brown’s arrest has only been followed by a plethora of senseless killings, such as Floyd, and further instances of brutality that only makes one wonder how things ever got to this point to begin with, and let alone how its been allowed to continue to this day.
That’s not to mention the brazenness, provocation, and subsequent violence that has come from law enforcement during the ongoing protests all over the country, which have given everyone a further eye-opening account into how quickly things can escalate, even regardless of race.
Clearly, Brown’s incident wasn’t the first nor has it been the last such instance of police brutality in Milwaukee or nationally. Personally speaking, seeing the first-hand account of how Brown was treated served as a striking wake-up call of what is often a common occurrence for black people and minorities in this country.
That night, Brown’s status as an NBA player clearly didn’t matter to the police officers that had openly ridiculed him after throwing him down to the ground and subsequently tasered him. Because of his profession, it has brought a high-profile nature to Brown’s case and will always hang over his time in Milwaukee and most likely the rest of his NBA career.
Plainly, the majority of African-Americans don’t have that same luxury, and beyond Brown, Floyd, Taylor, Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, there are many incidents of brutality and killings that haven’t either been recorded on video, or caught on through social media over the years.
As if it wasn’t already obvious, what we’re seeing during these incredibly anxious and bewildering times, particularly with the distraction of sports largely absent, is that social issues stretch far beyond the game of basketball. Everything going on throughout the country affects the lives of all of us, regardless of age, race, gender, or any factor.
Whether it’s seeing what’s unfolding now with people protesting social injustice around the country, Brown’s unlawful arrest, or the endless number of killings over the last decade, collectively, eyes are bound to be opened up to what’s really going on. Mine certainly have been and it’s no longer time to stay silent on all of it.