James Blake on Ferguson: Focus on the System, Not Race

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By Bill Simons

During a teleconference interview for the PowerShares Series this week, Inside Tennis had the following exchange with former No. 5 player in the world James Blake, who has done extensive work in New York’s Harlem community:

INSIDE TENNIS: Obviously, the events in Ferguson, New York, and other cities rekindle our national debate on race. Serena tweeted after Ferguson: “Shameful. What will it take?” LeBron [James] and Jalen Rose wore “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts, and the Rams players had their [“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”] gestures. So what are your thoughts? Are we ever going to get to a post-racial situation?

JAMES BLAKE: I think we’re getting there. I don’t think we’re in a post-racial situation right now at all, and while those events are tragic, I’m not one to say that they’re the rule. There are definitely exceptions. There are good cops, there are bad cops. There seems to be a focus on the cops that maybe aren’t doing their jobs the way they’re supposed to … One of the bigger tragedies here is the system that’s in place, a system that has an extremely disproportionate number of African-Americans that are incarcerated and … don’t need to be, or shouldn’t be … [because] the War on Drugs was a total failure and has been putting nonviolent criminals behind bars and … that makes it so that we’re not in a post-racial society.

The punishments don’t fit the crime … If you grow up in an urban area and are more likely to be in an African-American community … you’re getting put behind bars. I think that’s a system that should be getting protested a lot more than these two very horrible tragedies.

We need to shine a light on the system as a whole. Unfortunately, things have been way too inflammatory, and the talk has been strictly about race when it should be about the system in general that’s hurting the African-American community.

The only thing I can say about the two incidents is that my prayers go out to their [Michael Brown’s and Eric Garner’s] families because I don’t know the heartache they’re going through—and really, we need to be thinking about them and helping them, as opposed to causing more violence and creating more problems, as opposed to focusing on the law enforcement officers that are the center of attention with this outrage right now … There are bad apples and good apples … they aren’t the ones that should be the center of attention right now.