Thabo Sefolosha’s Attackers Should Be In Jail

Two years ago, The Shadow League examined the Atlanta Hawks’ Thabo Sefolosha being brutalized by the notoriously aggressive NYPD following an incident in which NBA player Chris Copeland and his girlfriend were stabbed during a nightclub brawl.

Not knowing who he was, the officers immediately began lying, with some saying that Sefolosha provoked the incident by being aggressive towards the police. It was a textbook NYPD case of racial profiling.

Despite standing 6-foot-7, Thabo is actually a pretty slim guy. That is especially relevant because he was standing next to former teammate Pero Antic, who stands nearly 7 feet tall, who is tatted everywhere and weights something like 270 pounds.

For any person of logical objectivity watching from afar observing these two individuals, Antic is by far the more imposing figure. But the NYPD didn’t see it that way.

Perhaps the hoody he was wearing added 50 pounds of muscle and 10 inches of height to his frame. At any rate, Sef was initially charged with being unruly, disobeying police orders to leave the scene and with misdemeanor obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

If this happened to any regular, everyday Black man in America, he’d probably still be sitting in Rikers Island. But, luckily for Thabo Sefolosha, he is an NBA player and can afford all of the legal protection that his station in life allows.

Defense attorney Alex Spiro was convinced right out of the gate that this was racially motivated, as did a number of other publications. Then the video surfaced showing exactly what happened.

Despite that, prosecuters tried to offer a plea deal for community service that was rejected. A Manhattan jury cleared him of all charges shortly after the video came to light. On Wednesday, it was announced that the New York Police Department and the City of New York had settled a lawsuit brought against them by Sefolosha for $4 million.

Though this is a victory for Sefolosha, and for the broader fight against institutional racism, the officers who committed this crime will not face any criminal charges. But being the bullies they’ve shown themselves to be on occasion, the NYPD couldn’t just let it go, even though there’s video evidence of their wrongdoing.

This settlement is not a concession that Mr. Sefolosha was blameless in this matter and there was no admission of liability by the defendants, the city Law Department said in a statement, but in light of the gravity of his injuries, the potential impact on his career as a professional athlete and the challenge for a jury in sorting out the facts in this incident, the resolution of the case was in the best interests of the City.

Their statement is arrogant, callous, insensitive and flat out dense. But that’s what happens when racism is embedded into the very DNA of a municipal apparatus. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, they still believe they did nothing wrong.

They still believe they were correct in aggressively accosting a Black man in a hoody who had done nothing wrong. Thabo Sefolosha is of South African and Swiss descent, and was raised in Switzerland. It matters not where he hails from, or that he’s one of the world’s best athletes who has earned enough money for his future generations to live comfortably.

What matters is that he is Black, and subject to be profiled in department stores, on the subway platform, at the Bodega and simply walking through a tourist-friendly area.

Despite the financial win in this particular case, I believe a valuable opportunity to push for the prosecution of these officers was missed. Using this incident as a platform to fight against police brutality and facism in America was a good look. Sending the officers that assaulted him to jail would have been even better. 

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