More questions than answers with Seahawks’ Michael Bennett situation

CHANDLER, AZ - JANUARY 28: Defensive end Michael Bennett (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
CHANDLER, AZ - JANUARY 28: Defensive end Michael Bennett (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks was “detained” by Las Vegas police on a street outside a casino on August 26th. What happened to Bennett that night is something most of us will never experience. And Bennett shouldn’t have experienced it either.

Before I became a Seahawks fan, I grew up in the American south. But I did not have a typical southern upbringing. The town where I lived was a government town full of people from lots of different places. I never knew what it was like to live somewhere where there weren’t lots of different colors of people.

I am white and in my mid-forties. My friends when I was in my teens were African-American, white and Asian-American. My experience, however, was not the same as many of my friends. I never felt singled out by the police. I am not sure how much Michael Bennett has been profiled before August 26th, but clearly he was that night.

A friend’s experience

One of my best friends now is Ted Hicks. Ted lives on Long Island. Ted told me a story about being pulled over about 20 years ago. He had been Christmas shopping and had thrown the shopping bags – and his wallet, as it turns out – in the trunk of the car. The police officer approached the window and Ted did what he was always told he should do. He kept his hands on the steering wheel at 10 and 2 and kept constant eye contact with the policeman. Ted spoke clearly and slowly and calmly. He then realized he had left his identification in the trunk.

Ted told the officer this and the policeman let him get out of the car to go to the trunk. This whole time the officer kept one hand on the fastened holster of his gun. As Ted went to open the trunk he announced his every move. “I am taking out my key. I am putting the key in the lock. Now I am going to open the trunk.” As Ted began opening the trunk, he heard the holster unfasten holding the officer’s gun.

Ted came out of the experience alive, obviously. But listening to him describe the encounter made me think that it was not too far off from someone being cornered by an angry animal. Make no sudden moves. You don’t know what the animal would do. Ted was cornered. But he ended up OK.

Ted is African-American, by the way. If this was a Twilight Zone story, you’d never see Ted until the surprise ending when you see – oh my gosh, he’s white! Sadly it was reality. Today, it’s far worse.

August 26th

There was no real reason for Michael Bennett of the Seahawks to be handpicked by the Las Vegas police on August 26th. There was no description of an alleged gunman given. The police singled out Bennett because…Well, that is the question, isn’t it? Bennett is African-American, a large man with an unwieldy beard. Does he look like a criminal to you? What does a criminal look like?

Bennett at the time was running from what many thought were gun shots. The people around him were white and black. The Las Vegas police have not said whether any white people were taken down on the street and handcuffed so tightly that their fingers went numb, as Bennett’s did. None of the other people seemed to experience what Bennett did when he wrote: “As I laid on the ground, complying with (the officer’s) commands to not move, he placed his gun near my head and warned me that if I moved he would ‘blow my (expletive) head off.'”

When the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department answered questions on Wednesday about why Bennett appeared to be singled out, Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said, “It’s a great question and I really can’t answer it yet.”

There are many Americans who can, though.

Since August 26th

Michael Bennett had this statement that he released via Twitter

Since Wednesday Pete Carroll has said the Seahawks are completely behind Bennett, and of course they are. The way the Seahawks are as a team is one reason I am such a fan. They stick together. Bennett sits for the National Anthem, as is his right, and Justin Britt – a white guy who played at the University of Missouri – stands besides him with a hand on Bennett’s shoulder. This is brotherhood. This is respect.

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And in all honesty, respect is something we are losing for one another. What is replacing it is far worse. What Michael Bennett experienced in Las Vegas wasn’t respect. It was fear. And fear is becoming far too normal when respect is what we need.