Thabo Sefolosha knows far too well about police brutality against black people.
Because, in 2015, it happened to him, when he suffered injuries by New York City police and was wrongly arrested.
Sefolosha, 36, is a 14-year NBA veteran from Switzerland who spent this season playing for the Houston Rockets before the Covid-19 pandemic put the season on hold. On Wednesday in Atlanta, he told CNN that he could see himself in George Floyd, who was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis.
“I think every black man in America, in my opinion, from the 14 years I’ve lived here, can feel that way,” Sefolosha said. “It’s that ultimate bullying. … I think it’s just an abuse of power that you’ve seen in preschool, middle school bullying, and it’s at such a high level that the people have to be fed up and something has to be done about it.”
In the early hours of April 8, 2015, Sefolosha, then with the Atlanta Hawks, and then-teammate, center Pero Antic, from Macedonia, were arrested near the scene of the stabbing of then-Indiana Pacers forward Chris Copeland and two women outside a New York nightclub.
Police said Sefolosha and Antic were not involved in the stabbing incident, but they were charged with misdemeanors, including disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental administration.
Shortly after the incident, TMZ released video that shows a group of police officers arresting the 6-foot-7 Sefolosha and taking him to the ground. It also shows an officer within that group getting out a baton and extending it near him, but what may have caused the injury is not clear in the video. Sefolosha appears to be limping as officers lead him away.
Sefolosha, who suffered a fractured fibula and ligament damage when he was arrested, said after the incident that police caused his injuries. He was forced to miss the rest of the 2015 regular season and the entire postseason.
A New York jury found Sefolosha not guilty on three misdemeanor charges. The charges against Antic, who is white, were dismissed. Sefolosha later settled a lawsuit against five police officers for $4 million.
“Everything happened so fast that at the moment it was just being myself, really, being respectful, and at the same time defending a position that I had the right to defend,” Sefolosha said to CNN. “Everything escalated so quickly that it was hard just to — looking back, just sitting in a cell and saying, ‘OK, I didn’t do anything wrong.'”
He later went on to say, “Really, it’s bullying at a high level. And that frustrates everybody. I think you see it now just with the protest and the level of anger that people have. I think it’s just enough is enough.”
As for why things escalated in his case on that overnight in New York, Sefolosha said it was because of “poor training.”
“Ego gets in the way, you know, and I think that’s one of the main problems when you’re a police officer,” Sefolosha said. “A lot is asked of you as a public servant, as someone who is here to defend the community. And I think it should be taken with pride and with more humanity, as far as you’re doing a job here for the people and understanding that everybody’s going through a lot.
“But as an officer, you’re the one with the training. You are the one who’s here, who is supposed to calm the situation down and realize what’s going on in a split second, you know? And too often this is not met.”
Sefolosha was asked what went through his mind when he saw the video of Floyd.
“Anger,” Sefolosha said. “And a sense of just being totally disconnected. How can a human being do that to somebody else and just sit on his neck for nine minutes? Intentionally in broad daylight killing someone like this. And the anger is extended to the other officers that are just around just watching. Like, what is your purpose in life? Why did you decide to become a police officer? Everything is to be put in question at this point. So I can’t really blame people that are in the street just angry.
“I just wish the leadership was a little more streamlined and people know exactly what the message, what they’re fighting for and what exactly they want after the protest. We can protest for six years. You protest and then something has got to come at the end of it, you know? But what is the message? What is the exact end goal of all of this?”
As for potentially going back to play basketball?
“The main priority should be justice, should be about fighting for sustainable justice,” Sefolosha said. “Can we do that while playing basketball? And I mean, obviously, the athletes are not the only ones that need to step up and do things. So, yeah, I think it would be great to have that outlet in times like this for everybody, for the ones that are on the court and the people watching. I think it’d be great for everybody to have (something) positive in times like this.
“But at the same time, I want myself and all the rest of the athletes with a platform, it’s time for action. And I want to really stress that I think it’s for all of us to take it upon us to be about action right now.”