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The infinite sadness surrounding Sterling Brown

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Brown’s lawyer explains how the Bucks guard is fighting America’s problem with policing.

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The chilly January morning could not blanket the terror. A man was to be punished here. Sterling Brown, a budding guard for the Milwaukee Bucks, was brutalized at 2 a.m. during a protocol that should’ve come as routine.

“I gave in so they didn’t pull their guns,” Brown told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel when describing the incident last month. “I don’t see what I could’ve done different ... I was defenseless.”


Brown filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court, released Monday, against the city of Milwaukee, its police chief, and seven officers. The contents alleged in the lawsuit were sweeping and disturbing. Officers slept in their vehicles and requested more overtime pay for arresting Brown. They reenacted the sound of Brown’s sizzling body from the stun gun for comedy. Officers told a Walgreens employee Brown “was a douchebag,” around 4 a.m.

One officer allegedly published multiple racist posts to his Facebook account, making jokes about the incident, lambasting other black athletes like Kevin Durant, and expressing hopes he could arrest J.R. Smith in a similar fashion.

Brown and his lawyers see a clear pattern. A framework is in place that allows the unlawful arrests of black people without ample justification, done without the fear of discipline. Mark Thomsen, Brown’s lawyer, put it bluntly during a phone call on Monday:

“Mr. Brown asked me to file this lawsuit for the injustice that was going on in Milwaukee. But also to reference that this isn’t a Milwaukee problem. This is an America problem,” he said.

“To the extent that he can make a difference and make things better, not only in Milwaukee and all over the country, we have to do so. Our youth deserve a better place to grow up and play and work. People should be safe when they go about their business. We need to get over these types of racial attacks, especially by bad cops. This is long past due in my America.”

It should not be lost on anyone that Brown’s lawyers released this information to the world on Juneteenth, a day black people remember as a true commemoration of their liberties finally being won, emancipation rewarded after generations of slaving for white prosperity. There is a fickle irony here, however. Juneteenth and Brown’s case are among so many devilish, American improprieties that often remind us freedom isn’t truly free. It is not handed over. Those that would deny justice and would keep hands bound are never convinced by humanity, because they’re invested only in harm and destruction.

Truly, Brown may have never stood a chance in his environment. Wisconsin is known to particularly ravage the black body. Officers kill 15 black people for every one white person, a number second in the nation and three times the national average, according to an evaluation by the Journal of the National Medical Association.

Even the highest level of his sport isn’t able to offer him or his colleagues protection. Wisconsin stores racially profiled his teammate, John Henson, in 2015 as he tried to buy jewelry. Police in New York broke Thabo Sefolosha’s leg the same year.

If the very things that gave Brown vaunted status in this nation could not protect him — the home he’s made in Wisconsin, the athleticism his constituents clamor for, the riches he’s worked to obtain — then he was never truly free to begin with. In the eyes of the men enforcing white law, he was just black. A crime to any oppressor whenever they see fit.

This is the illusion America feeds from. It is when these two different, distinct paths collide do we find the reality of one’s worth. Before Brown came to that parking lot, before his crown was smashed and his back bent, he may have believed his life was different. When seven officers jumped him in an empty parking lot, his image and self collided, proving at that moment the measure of his worth in their eyes.

He didn’t have the possibility of escaping because fortune often doesn’t favor the black and unprivileged, despite whatever spoils life has enriched them with. And that reality should bring about an infinite sadness.


“It’s horrific. It was difficult to watch,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said weeks ago when Brown’s video was first made public. Silver quickly pivoted, though, and opted to highlight basketball’s version of combatting such hatred.

“One of the things the league has undertaken — led in many ways by our players and by our leading players — has been defined ways to build bridges in communities to create dialogue directly between young people and police officers,” Silver said, noting how “effective” this approach has been.

The NBA never issued an official statement on Sterling Brown, and did not answer multiple requests for comment. The Bucks issued a statement in the aftermath of the incident, and a senior Bucks official reiterated it once the lawsuit was filed.

Bucks general manager Jon Hurst said Monday it wasn’t difficult to support Brown during the situation. “We are completely, 100 percent behind Sterling. What happened to him was obviously not acceptable and shows us how far we have to go, but [we’re] beyond proud of Sterling and how he’s handled all this.”

Epidemics such as these can challenge the progressive status of organizations like the NBA. Basketball’s constituents have noticed as much in recent months, even openly acknowledging the limits of NBA-brand activism. It can be dismaying when those at the top of the NBA food chain only recognize the pain inflicted upon the athletes in their ranks, or the constituents in their operating cities, once they’re already become a victim of such chaos.

As both a community and as an organization, it is disingenuous to offer “support” in name only. It is difficult to believe Brown ever stood a chance in that Walgreens parking lot. How can communities continue to hold these athletes accountable to the standards of role models and figureheads, but when they see their darkest hour, there is no real public support, no true fight?

Protest is not the evil here; it’s indifference. Brown was an egregious example of men abusing their state-sanctioned positions, and it cannot be ignored — if it is, these trespasses will only continue.

Better training — which Milwaukee’s mayor called for this month — is not the simple answer to solve this. Truly, it is freedom that must come, bold and equal, to rectify such injustice. Without that, Brown is another number. He is another story, forgetful as each day closes. He is the American normal that we overlook, until the next Taser zings, or chamber explodes, or body falls without a soul to fight the treachery.