In April, in the shadow of police brutality controversies that have traversed the nation, Atlanta Hawks small forward Thabo Sefaloshia was chilling at the posh 1Oak night club in Manhattan when fellow NBA player Chris Copeland was stabbed during a brawl outside of the venue.
As is often the case, NYPD arrived on the scene and aggressively cordoned off the location. Despite being in the company of Hawks teammate Pero Antic- an enormous, bald and tattooed man of Macedonian ancestry (White), Thabo came under immediate scrutiny of officers. However, it wasn’t Antic who found himself bum rushed by the NYPD but Sefolosha- a Swiss-born player of African descent who stands 6ft 7in but is very thinly built. Pictures and video of the affair show Thabo was wearing a hoodie on the evening in question.
For many in law enforcement who are trained to compartmentalize and profile individuals, hoodies are synonymous with criminals. Just so happens that hoodies were made popular by the American Black community (coincidence?) and continue to be a staple in the apparel of many young Black, Brown and White males.
Initially the NYPD reported that Thabo was being unruly, disobeying police orders to leave the scene and eventually charged him with misdemeanor obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. But something seemed rotten about the entire situation from the very beginning as reports immediately began to circulate regarding Thabo being roughed up and suffering a broken leg thanks to his treatment by the boys in blue. Then the video was released and all of our suspicions became clear; Sefolosha suffered a severe blow from a police baton to his leg, shattering his right fibula.
Defense attorney Spiro believes the incident was racially motivated and points to a surveillance video where a White officer walks past the hulking Antic and approaches Sefolosha to demand he move up the block.
ESPN reported the official police version:
“Sefolosha sustained the injury while resisting arrest outside a Manhattan night club early Wednesday morning. Sefolosha was arrested along with teammate Pero Antic for interfering with local police’s efforts to set up a crime scene following the stabbing of Indiana Pacers forward Chris Copeland.”
But if the beating death of Freddie Gray and the shooting death of Walter Scott, both at the hands of police officers, have taught us anything it is to never take a police report on face value. Just like many people who feel the heat of their transgression bearing down on them, police officers lie too. Thabo and teammate Antic released a statement immediately following the incident.
As members of the Atlanta Hawks, we hold ourselves to a high standard and take our roles as professionals very seriously. We will contest these charges and look forward to communicating the facts of the situation at the appropriate time. We apologize to our respective families, teammates, and the Hawks organization for any negative attention this incident has brought upon them. We are unable to provide further comment as this is an ongoing legal matter.
The menacing monster of a basketball player that was Antic walked away unscathed; he’s White. The hoody-wearing skinny Black guy was accosted and physically restrained. Tell us more about those good police we keep hearing about.
Police were saying Thabo was resisting arrest, not obeying orders to leave the scene, and if he were your average everyday Black man that would likely be the end of it. He would probably be in prison right now. But, luckily, Sefolosha has the necessary pockets to fight off trumped up charges that your average brother simply wouldn’t have.
Last week a Manhattan jury deliberated for approximately an hour and found Thabo not guilty of all charges. The NBA player testified that he left the crime scene when instructed by a vulgar and unnecessarily confrontational police officer and was attempting to give money to a homeless person when he was tackled by officers, but he admitted to calling an officer a “midget” before departing. Now calling names is cause for arrest and a broken leg? According to some in the NYPD, yes.
“They broke his leg out of eyeshot or earshot of an unrelated crime scene,” said defense lawyer Alex Spiro.
Prosecutors argued that Sefolosha behaved as if he was entitled to preferential treatment and did not depart the club expeditiously.
In what might be one of the stupidest prosecutorial arguments made this year, assistant district attorney Francesca Bartolomey said “The police don’t get to tell the defendant how to play basketball. The defendant doesn’t get to say where the crime scene ends.”
Really? So the crime scene is apparently an arbitrary coordinate that may or may not be near the site of an actual crime? What kind of BS is that?
Prosecutors had offered a plea deal that would have seen Thabo’s initial charges dismissed in exchange for one day of community service, which was roundly rejected. But how many of our readership would have simply taken that deal just to get it over? My guess is a lot. And that is how many rogue cops get away with doing what they do. The situations are so physically, financially and emotionally taxing on the average person that many would have simply taken the deal just to get on with their lives. Meanwhile, the police are left to tackle, taser, shoot and choke non-threatening citizens to their hearts’ desire.
The Atlanta Hawks and head coach Mike Budenholzer have released statements in support of Thabo and Antic, and NBA executive vice president Mike Bass released a rather bland statement as well.
The NBA Players Union reportedly investigated the incident early on as well, but nobody on the NBA side of things has spoken up about how close to home the issue of police brutality has hit since Thabo was found not guilty.
In a league where the vast majority of the participants are of African descent, in addition to the nation’s current political climate, one would hope the NBA takes an affirmative stance against police brutality directly or by proxy in support of an activist-minded player or players. I can hope, can’t I?
No word yet on whether Thabo will pursue further legal action against the NYPD.