James Blake - Fighting for Social Justice with "Ways of Grace" - Extended Interview

Extended - August 30, 2017 - James Blake 08/30/2017 Views: 18,048

Tennis player and "Ways of Grace" author James Blake describes how he turned to activism after being violently wrestled to the ground by the NYPD. (12:20)

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James Blake.

-♪ -(cheering, applause)

Thank you.

-Nice.-Welcome to the show.

-Thank you. Nice to be here.-And just as the U.S. Open

is starting-- I like this.

-Good timing. Everything.-Yeah, good timing.

-'Cause I need tickets.-Almost like you planned it.

-That was... -I-I did.I did plan. I need the tickets.

I don't play anymore.I don't know if I can...

I don't havethose kind of connections.

You don't have a tennis hookup?

I feel like you would havea better hookup than me, no?

-For tennis?-For tennis? Uh...

I don't even know which...which way you hold the thing.

I don't even knowwhat the things is called.

You don't know whatthe thing is called?

The thing. The ball thing.

It's a racket.

Yeah, it is--'cause it doesn't have a name.

-Welcome to the show.-Thank you.

Thank you very muchfor being here.

And, uh, what a storyyou have put together.

I guess, a collectionof stories, rather.

-Before we get into he book,-Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

-let's talk about your story,-Okay.

and really what inspired youon this journey.

-You were in the newstwo years ago, -Mm-hmm.

when you were publicly accostedby cops from the NYPD.

They said they mistook youfor a criminal.

I think we have the videoof what happened here.

That's you...

being thrown down to the ground.

BLAKE:Yeah, it doesn't get easier.

That's about the hundred... twohundredth time I've seen that,

and it... doesn't get any morefun when I watch it now.

NOAH:Like... we watched that video,

and everyone was like,oh, that's... that's clearly

an obvious moment of somebody

who has been wrestledto the ground, uh,

you know, for ten minutes.

Uh... what was...

what was really disturbingfor me was how that came to be,

why you had to get that video.

-What happened there?-Well, to get the video,

first of all,there was no report,

they didn't file a reportor anything,

so if not for that video,I think this whole case

would have been different,because it would have been

my word againstfive police officers.

And their story, beforethey knew there was a video,

was that nothing happened--I wasn't even in cuffs,

I was in custodyfor less than a minute,

nothing ever happened.

So thank goodnessfor that video,

otherwise, I have a feeling

it would have beencompletely different.

And as credible as I am,they would have believed

five police officers over me.

But there's that security video,

and it tooka couple days to get it.

We had to go through legalchannels to actually get it.

-Wow.-Otherwise, we were, uh,

we were not gonna get,you know, custody of that video.

Um, but to have that happen,and then...

you know, to think about,I wanted it go away.

I'm an athlete,I want to think that I'm tough--

even though I play tennis,so I'm not really that tough.

Um, I thought, you know,I-I can handle this.

I don't want, you know, I don'twant to deal with this.

And I called my wife afterwards,and she just first--

her first reaction was what ifthis happened to me?

What if this happened to someoneyou love or care about?

And it made me immediately say

I have to do something,'cause I have a voice.

And most peoplethat this happens to,

-don't have any voice at all.-Right.

They have no recourse,no way of taking action.

And I do.I'm able to go to the press

and-and make this more,more widely known.

And make people realizethis still happens

to anyone and everyone.

It can happen to anyonethat's standing outside

in midtown Manhattan at noonin golf clothes.

Not even, you know--

And people like to sometimesblame a victim.

"Oh, well, he shouldn'thave been in that place.

"She shouldn't have been there.

"She shouldn't have beenwearing that.

He shouldn't have... "

I don't thinkthey can find anything

that I was doing wrongat that time

except for maybe texting andnot paying enough attention

to what was going around me.

And, um, you know, thatstill ends up happening.

When you look at that situation,

do you think that for a momentthere was a part of you

that thought, "I can't believethis happened to me...

I'm famous"?

Do you think there's a partof you that was--

-No. Gen-genuinely, it'san honest question. -Yeah.

Like, you know, where yougo like, "Oh, I didn't think

that this is some... " Like,you go like, "I'm James Blake.

"I was number one, the numberone tennis player in America.

-I was number four inthe world." -Yeah.

Is there, like, a momentwhere you're going,

"Do you guys not know me?"Do you-- is... ?

No. I actually thinkit helped me, um,

because I thinkabout that day a lot.

And I thought that thatwas possibly someone

that was a friend of mine,that was coming to,

-almost like jokingly, wrestleme or whatever. -Oh, wow.

'Cause someone had written intomy Website that was--

I was on the wrestling teamin high school,

which is embarrassing enough.

But, 'cause I didn't win ever.

But, um, I thought it wasone of the guys who had written

into my Website and said,"Hey, you know, we're just proud

"of you and I was just thinkingof you the other day,

and I hope I see you."And I was like,

"Oh, my goodness.Is that the same guy?"

-He had a shaved head, kindof... -Right, right, right.

a meaty looking guy,and I was like,

what are the chancesthis guy found me?

And it got me to completelylower my guard.

-That's interesting.-I was just looking

at this guy laughing,thinking he was coming to me

with, you know, a very amicableembrace and joking around.

And like that,I was on the ground.

I'm like, "He's not joking."

So, but I think about whatwould have happened

if I had put my hands upand I had fought.

And I've talked to a lot ofother police officers,

and they say, you know,they-- you know,

if you put your hands up, andyou really defended yourself,

there's a good chance you were--

your head was gonna beon the ground,

you were gonna be throwninto a cruiser,

and there was gonna bea lot more damage done

than just a coupleof bumps and bruises.

So I think about how lucky I am,'cause if it wasn't for that,

I might have reactedtotally differently.

I might have triedto start fighting.

He never said, "officer."He never said "NYPD."

I might have, you know,

-think this guy's coming to mugme or something. -Right.

I'm gonna sta--I'm gonna start fighting.

And there are fourother cops with guns.

You know, I-I don't know whatthe outcome would have been

had I, had I not been someonethat think,

-"Oh, this might just be a crazyfan having fun." -Yeah, yeah.

Let's talk about the journeythat you went on

-post this incident.-Mm-hmm.

You started speaking out.

You obviously spent a lot of--

you spent a lot of timethinking about it.

And this book really speaksabout activism in sports,

how sports people over the yearshave come to realize

that they have a platform,and in many ways,

for some people, they feelthey have a responsibility

to speak out to this.

There is alwaysthe discussion, though,

amongst people, and that is

is sports the placewhere this needs to happen?

You know, people say,"Hey, man, this is...

this is tennis-- we don't needpolitics involved."

"This is football-- we don'tneed politics involved."

You see itwith Colin Kaepernick,

you write about itin the book, as well.

How do you feelpeople need to balance that?

I mean, you-you are a sportsperson. Someone says,

"I'm not comingfor the politics, James.

Why are you including mein the politics?"

Yeah, and I-I thinkit's-it's great that we talk

about athletes,and they have these decisions.

Athletes are individuals,and sometimes people forget

that athletes don't only existfor the three hours

-you watch them on your TV.-Right.

They're people with families,they're people with issues,

they-they have tragedies,

they have, you know, greatjubilation throughout their life

that doesn't haveanything to do with sports,

and they also have socialconsciences. Some of them.

Some of them don't, and they...that's their complete right

-to be completely silenton any issue -Right.

that-that doesn't move them.That doesn't, um, ha...

That they have no passion for.

But it you have passionfor something

and you have millions of peoplethat you can connect with

on any given dayjust by writing 140 characters

and you feel likeyou can do something

to-to promote social justice,to promote equality,

then I think, yeah,if you're educated about it,

you realize what you're doingand you want to take a stand,

I think it's the-the absolutebest reason

to-to go about and do it,because you have a voice,

and most people don't have that.

You write some fascinatingstories in this book

about, um, activism.You know, for instance,

in the Olympics, where there wasthe infamous black power salute,

and how the Australian athleteactually faced the most backlash

-for joining inand showing support. -Yeah.

Uh, you know, with the... the...his fellow black athletes,

who he was standing up with.Um... you-you know,

you speak about, uh, somethingthat's very similar

to what's happenedto Colin Kaepernick now.

-I think it was,uh, Abdul-Rauf... -Yeah.

-was an NBA player.-Yeah.

In that situation...This was someone

who didn't want to standfor the anthem,

or someone who didn'twant to partake in the anthem,

and he got,in many ways, a lot worse

than what happenedto Colin right now.

Yeah, and it-itsort of shows somewhat

of the changing of the mediaand of how, uh, people react.

'Cause he was in the NBA,and he was a Muslim,

and he didn'tbelieve in standing

with his hand over his heartfor the... for the anthem.

He went into the corner...into the-the tunnel

and looked at his handsand prayed.

So he was praying.

He was doing somethingcompletely peaceful.

He just didn't believein the flag because he felt

-it had oppressed, uh,others like him. -Right.

And, once the NBA caught windof it, they suspended him.

He finished the year

and then never got anothertryout in the league.

He had to play in Europe.

The house he was living in--before he went to Europe--

was on the market,it got burned down.

Burned to the ground.And he had death threats, daily.

And this is someonethat was trying

to do something peacefullyand never came back

and never had anotheropportunity in the NBA.

So he was treated, clearly,much more harshly

than Colin Kaepernick, um, fordoing something very similar,

and I think it showshow things have changed.

And I think Colin Kaepernick hasbeen treated extremely harshly,

but he, you know,he's able to reach people

in a much, uh, easier fashion.

And, also, it has blown up.

It has been... It's still talkedabout a year later.

-Right. -Ver-Very few peoplein-in the country

would even know the name MahmoudAbdul-Rauf if you said it

or who he was or what he didor what he stood for.

-But everyone knowsColin Kaepernick now. -Right.

So the-the access is greater.

So your sacrificeand your platform is greater.

'Cause, uh, Colin Kaepernick mayhave cost himself $30 million,

-uh, if he doesn't ever getanother job in the NFL. -Uh-huh.

And so I-I think that'sanother thing that's important

for activists to know is, um,

what you're gonna sacrifice,

what-what you're willingto give up.

And Colin Kaepernick has shownthat he's willing to give up,

-uh, so many financial,uh, benefits -Right.

just to show what he stands forand be able to sleep at night.

Let me ask you from your side.

You obviously have fans.

You had fans that followed youthroughout your career.

Was there even one personwho came up to you and said,

"Hey, James,until that happened to you

"and until you spoke out,

"I didn't think of itas an issue.

"And because of you,I was able to see it...

"or maybe, because of you,I was more open to hearing

-about this as an issue"?-Yeah. I actually had

a-a couple of friends that...So, when this happened to me,

I told a lot of my friendswhat happened.

And they joked about itand everything. It was fine.

And... No big deal.I told 'em I'm fine, you know?

Everything's okay.I'm-I'm all right.

You know, my family's healthy.Everything's okay.

It's not... you know,not the end of the world.

And then they saw the video,

and I got people that called me.

There were friends of mine thatsaid, "I can't believe that.

"I got sick to my stomach.

I can't believethis actually happens to you."

And it-it wasalmost like a switch went on,

'cause they see...If someone sees a video

of Terence Crutcher,of, um, uh, Michael Brown,

of, um... you know, ofEric Garner, Philando Castile,

they see those, they don't havea connection with them.

But the people that actually hada connection with me,

now this just became real.

"This is something thatcan happen to a friend of mine?"

And they realized, "Okay,

"now-now this is somethingthat I need to think about,

because I can't believe thiscan happen to James, you know?"

And it's, um...it was eye-opening for me

to think that peopledidn't believe this

just because theyweren't connected to someone

that this has happened to.And now it took this, uh,

for them to realizethat this is actually going on,

that those people...You can't blame the victims.

They weren't really doinganything wrong,

even if the narrative is thatthey were in the wrong place

-at the wrong time.-You-you sued the NYPD,

but you didn't sue them,uh, for money.

-Mm-hmm. -You instead wantedsome sort of change.

What was that change andwhy was that important to you?

Yeah, well,I worked together with the...

with the city of New Yorkto get this fellowship.

Um, so it's for six years.It's on the books now.

Um, their-their dime.

It's a line-item budgetfor them to-to employ a fellow,

straight out of law school,to fight cases like this.

Um, because over 50%last year went...

didn't get seen to conclusionbecause either lack of interest,

they drag these things out--it's a tactic they use.

So people don't have the moneyto pay for a lawyer,

-they don't have the time.-Right.

And so now, um,there's a fellow on staff

just for this purpose,just to fight this,

not looking...only on two-year terms,

-so not looking to climbthe corporate ladder, -Right.

in the Civilian ComplaintsReview Board,

but therejust to fight these cases.

So I wanted thatto be my impact,

instead of taking taxpayer moneyand putting it in my pocket.

I-I don't think that's gonnamake any difference for them.

It might've made me,you know, have a nicer suit

when I come out here,but that's about it, you know?

-It's a very nice suit. Verynice. -Thank you. Appreciate it.

Um, but... so that-that madea big difference.

And, now, that, to me,was much more important

than-than suing themfor my own financial gain.

Right. Um, it's an amazing book

with someof the most fascinating stories

I've ever read. Some I didn'tknow about, some I did.

But, uh, thank you so muchfor being on the show.

-Thanks for having me.-Appreciate it.

Ways of Grace is available now.

James Blake, everybody.

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