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Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown sues city, police department

‘I wish and I hope that Milwaukee becomes a model of how to turn it around for the country’

A lawyer for the Milwaukee Bucks’ Sterling Brown announced that the 23-year-old guard filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the city of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Police Department after a highly publicized arrest back in January.

Mark Thomsen, Brown’s attorney, said in a news conference that his client’s arrest, of which video was released on May 23, was a blatant example of “racially based use of excessive force” that will hopefully lead to better training for Milwaukee officers and change within the city. Thomsen and Brown are claiming unlawful arrest and excessive force after Milwaukee officers aggressively grabbed Brown, used a stun gun on him and handcuffed him after he illegally parked his car across two handicapped spots in front of a Walgreens on the city’s south side.

The heart of the issue, according to Thomsen, is how the racial profiling of black men continues to lead to excessive reactions, and in some cases violence, from police officers, specifically in Milwaukee.

“We have to get about how are we going to deconstruct segregation in our city and how are we going to get along,” Thomsen said. “And how can young people like Sterling Brown, at 23, live in a city and have good working relationships with the police.”

Thomsen, who is white, said what happened to Brown is unique to the African-American experience in a city that is nearly 40 percent black, and that white Americans may not understand the privilege transaction that takes place during a police stop. Without explicitly invoking the infamous practice of “Driving While Black,” Thomsen summarized Brown’s case as that of “a young African-American man … with a nice car” being unnecessarily harassed by law enforcement. “If it would have been my son, double-parked in an empty parking lot,” Thomsen said, “he probably wouldn’t even gotten a ticket.”

Helping Brown’s case are the specific actions of two of the Milwaukee officers named in the lawsuit: James Collins and Erik Andrade. Collins allegedly stood on Brown’s ankle for nearly three minutes as Brown lay on the ground after being handcuffed and jokingly sang, “Money money money money money money” when referencing the amount of overtime he would receive for arresting Brown. A Facebook account that allegedly belongs to Andrade shared or posted several controversial and racist remarks, including a post accusing African-Americans of “lying on the police,” a post boasting of five-plus hours of overtime pay after the Brown arrest and one post after Game 1 of the NBA Finals where Andrade joked about hoping Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith, who cost the Cavs the game, “double parks in Walgreens handicap Parkin spots when he’s in Milwaukee.”

On Monday night, local ABC affiliate WISN-TV obtained additional body cam video footage that shows another officer on the scene that night, Bojan Samardzic, drawing his service weapon as Brown is speaking with other officers nearby.

“The fact that someone would pull their gun for a traffic ticket should trouble all of us,” Thomsen said. “And it should trouble every parent of every child, and obviously every parent of an African-American young man.”

While Brown is seeking an undetermined amount of money for compensatory and punitive damages, Thomsen says what his client most desires is for what happened to him to never happen to another black man in America.

“I’m convinced that the only way to get [City Hall’s] attention and the citizens’ attention is to file a federal civil rights suit,” Thomsen said. “I’m hoping that all of America is watching, because Sterling Brown knows that this is not a problem just with Milwaukee. I wish and I hope that Milwaukee becomes a model of how to turn it around for the country. Frankly, I’m tired of being known as the most segregated city in America. I’m tired of what that means economically. I’m tired of what it means reputationally.”

Cognizant of the plights of “Dontre Hamilton of Milwaukee, Laquan McDonald of Chicago, Stephon Clark of Sacramento, Eric Garner of New York,” Brown has said in the past that he wants to be a face for the people who don’t have the platform of a professional basketball player and for the people who “aren’t able to speak anymore because of unjust actions by those who are supposed to ‘serve and protect’ the people.”

“Because of his hard work and dedication,” Thomsen said of Brown, “he has a voice that can speak to this issue on behalf of all those without a voice.”

Martenzie Johnson is a senior writer for Andscape. His favorite cinematic moment is when Django said, "Y'all want to see somethin?"