My hunch is that you saw this incident — in which the Seahawks star said a gun was held to his head by Las Vegas police — through the prism of your previously held beliefs. People are hunkered down on this issue — as they are on so many issues in our increasingly divided society.
After details of Michael Bennett’s police detainment in Las Vegas spilled out Wednesday, I’m confident you were shocked, angered and saddened, as I was — as any compassionate human would be.
But here’s what I don’t know. Were you shocked, angered and saddened at the injustice being done to Bennett, indicative of the wider issue of systemic inequality against which he had already been protesting? Or shocked, angered and saddened that, once again, hard-working cops were having to defend their methods in a chaotic, life-threatening moment when it’s impossible to discern who poses a threat?
My strong hunch is that you saw this incident through the prism of your previously held beliefs. People are hunkered down on this issue — as they are on so many issues in our increasingly divided society — and I doubt many were moved to change their opinion. I hope I’m wrong. But it’s like there are two different realities taking place in our world, and each side is dumbfounded that the other isn’t seeing the same one they do.
That’s a scary place to be. Our country is as splintered as I’ve seen it since the 1960s, when the Vietnam War and civil rights inflamed passions from coast to coast. My hope is that Bennett’s experience will inspire some sort of compassion and empathy, along with a desire to come together in search of a solution … but it’s not looking good.
What we know about Michael Bennett's incident with Las Vegas police:
- Michael Bennett alleges LVMPD held him at gunpoint after Mayweather-McGregor fight
- Las Vegas police union pens letter to NFL, asking for investigation into Bennett for "false and defamatory" claims
- Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFLPA say they won't bother
- Bennett's lawyer calls for independent investigation into Las Vegas police
Our columnists' takes:Matt Calkins | Lots of unanswered questions for Las Vegas police after Michael Bennett incident
Already you can see the factions digging in, as exemplified by Colin Kaepernick’s tweet in support of Bennett and the highly charged letter from the Las Vegas police union to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday demanding action for Bennett’s “false accusations.” The letter opened with an ill-considered shot at Bennett for his decision to sit during the national anthem, which should be irrelevant to how the police, or Bennett, behaved in Las Vegas.
On Wednesday, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin addressed how difficult it is to separate the emotion of the moment from the serious issues raised by what happened in Vegas. He and cornerback Richard Sherman were among the teammates that Bennett reached out to for help in deciding how to move forward.
“My initial reaction was, ‘Let’s think this through,’ ” Baldwin said. “ ‘Let’s not allow our first order of thought, which is based on emotion, to cloud our better judgment.’ Not to say that he was doing anything or saying anything wrong. I just wanted to make sure that his message was going to get clearly across, because we have seen before how the message can get lost in translation. We wanted to make sure that the essential part of his message of what actually happened, the details of what actually happened, and that there weren’t other stories being created. That was very important to us.”
But when asked if he feared Bennett’s message was getting sidetracked over the details and the question of who was right or wrong, Baldwin replied, “The fact you’re asking me says yes. If you’re asking me that question, then obviously.
“Again, my challenge and my encouragement to everybody who’s interacting and engaging with this story, is to be empathetic. I can’t say it any more. I think that’s our No. 1 problem in society, that we’re just not empathetic. I understand everybody has their own political views, their own ideals of what’s right and what’s wrong. But if you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, just for a moment, maybe you might act and think differently than you normally do.
“And same for the other side. If they put themselves in the other side’s shoes, maybe they’d act and think differently as well. But is there a possibility this story could get crossed up with other agendas? Absolutely.”
From my viewpoint, the predominant takeaway is that a truly traumatic experience was endured by Bennett. If you didn’t see that in the video of him lying helplessly on the ground pleading to the cops, if you didn’t hear it in Bennett’s emotional responses at his news conference Wednesday, then certainly you can discern it from the reports of teammates and friends. Defensive lineman Cliff Avril, for instance, said he’d never seen Bennett as shaken and upset as he was in the aftermath of the Vegas incident.
Baldwin could relate, because he said he had something similar happen to him in high school, as did Sherman while at Stanford. It’s an extremely common occurrence for African-Americans — “a day in the life,’’ Sherman said. “I mean, you live in inner city, that is just how it goes.”
Remember, Bennett was innocent, and he knew it, and yet he found himself on the ground, handcuffed, with a weapon pointed at him. What got him into that situation will continue to be debated, but I would never try to minimize how terrifying that would be. When Baldwin says, “It changes the course of your life forever,” I believe it. And it provides the prism through which he and others similarly afflicted, and those with empathy toward them, look at many police interactions.
“Those are extremely traumatizing situations to be in, when you feel like your life is in somebody else’s hands,” Baldwin said. “You truly feel like your life is flashing before your eyes, because you don’t have control of the situation. You have lost all control. I know it’s hard for some people to put themselves in that mind-set or put themselves in someone else’s shoes. It is very hard for humans to be empathetic. But that is my challenge.”
I certainly have respect for the often-thankless job that police officers do, and I’ll be waiting for a full accounting of precisely what went on that night in the tumult of a Vegas casino. We may never get a definitive rendering, however. In the end, I suspect, your processing of what happened in Vegas ultimately will come down to what you already believe.