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Colin Kaepernick, Sue Bird, and other athletes express solidarity with Michael Bennett

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Colin Kaepernick, WNBA legend Sue Bird, tennis champion Martina Navritalova, NFL safety Eric Reid, Olympian and civil rights icon John Carlos, and U.S. soccer great Megan Rapinoe were among an esteemed group of athletes and activists on Wednesday to publicly offer their support and solidarity to Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who has faced immense backlash in the past week since publicly accusing the Las Vegas Police Department of racially profiling him and treating him with excessive force.

“Since Bennett publicized his encounter with the LVMPD, a spokesperson for the police has confirmed that it is conducting an investigation of Bennett to determine ‘whether Mr. Bennett was involved in the altercation at the hotel casino prior to his detention on Las Vegas Boulevard,’” the letter, which was originally published on The Nation, says. “This is clearly an act of retaliation against Bennett for speaking out against police brutality. It is also a gesture of intimidation against anyone else who would dare challenge the right of the Las Vegas police department to act with impunity. This is unacceptable.”

On August 26, 2017, Bennett was in a casino after the Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor fight when people in the lobby started quickly fleeing the scene amid rumors of gunshots. Bennett alleges that cops on site ordered him to the ground, handcuffed him, pointed a weapon at his head, and threatened him.

He was scared for his life.

“I’m just thinking in my head, there’s like, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, all these people, these people that have been through this. … I’m terrified,” Bennett said on Wednesday’s Good Morning America. “I’m literally just, like, worried if I make the wrong decision…if I move too fast, if I twitch, and somebody says I’m resisting…because I’m a big guy, you know what I’m saying?”

That night, Bennett phoned one of his friends in Seattle, high-school teacher and activist Jesse Hagopian, to tell him what happened.

“The phone rang at 2:30 in the morning,” Hagopian told ThinkProgress. He said that Bennett’s voice was shaking as he told him the story, that he was clearly in shock. “It’s just hard to think that we could have lost him, he’s such an important voice.”

Bennett, who announced two weeks before this incident that he would sit during the national anthem all NFL season, has become a crucial voice in the activist community, particularly in Seattle; he is never afraid to use his platform to speak out against racism or injustices of any kind. But Hagopian was infuriated when the LVMPD started trying to paint Bennett as the one at fault, instead of the police officers involved. So he began reaching out to high-profile human rights advocates, historians, and athletes who are outspoken about social justice issues, who would be willing to speak up on Bennett’s behalf.

We didn’t want them to be able to slam Michael Bennett’s name,” Hagopian said. “But they know that all they need to do is just roll out this narrative.”

Other activists and athletes who signed the letter include former NBA players Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Craig Hodges, and Etan Thomas; WNBA star Breanna Stewart; former NFL players Dave Meggyesy and Chris Borland; historians, authors, and professors such as Angela Davis, Noura Erakat, Eddie Glaude Jr., Melissa Harris-Perry, Naomi Klein, and Cornel West; Olympian fencer Ibtijah Muhammad; Black Lives Matter co-founders Opal Tometi and Patrisse Khan-Cullors; actor Jesse Williams; and Seattle-based musician, Macklemore.

“Michael Bennett has been sitting during the anthem precisely to raise these issues of racist injustice that are now an intimate part of his life,” their letter reads. “Now we stand with him.”

The full letter can be read below.

We the undersigned stand with Michael Bennett, a professional football player with the Seattle Seahawks, philanthropist and activist following an incident of police brutality in Las Vegas. On the morning of August 27th, a reported shooting on the Vegas strip led to chaos. Michael Bennett ran for cover, as did hundreds of others. Instead of being assisted, video and photographic evidence shows that Las Vegas police targeted Bennett, put him on the ground in handcuffs while the primary officer took out a weapon and placed it near the back of his head. According to Bennett, the officer said that if Bennett moved he would “blow [his] fucking head off.” Bennett was then put in a police car, and after a period of time let go without charges.

We condemn this act of racial profiling and excessive force perpetrated by the Vegas police against Mr. Bennett.

This story is awful enough. The response by the Las Vegas police union has been even worse. They have issued a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell calling for Bennett to be investigated for “obvious false allegations against our officers.” Instead of refuting these allegations, the police union made reference to Bennett’s protests of the national anthem, writing, “While the NFL may condone Bennett’s disrespect for our American Flag, and everything it symbolizes, we hope the league will not ignore Bennett’s false accusations against our police officers.” They are, in effect, using Bennett’s political protest as a pretext to investigate him.

Since Bennett publicized his encounter with the LVMPD, a spokesperson for the police has confirmed that it is conducting an investigation of Bennett to determine, “Whether Mr. Bennett was involved in the altercation at the hotel casino prior to his detention on Las Vegas Boulevard.” This is clearly an act of retaliation against Bennett for speaking out against police brutality. It is also a gesture of intimidation against anyone else who would dare challenge the right of the Las Vegas police department to act with impunity. This is unacceptable.

Michael Bennett has been sitting during the anthem precisely to raise these issues of racist injustice that are now an intimate part of his life. Now we stand with him.

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