Monday, August 03, 2009

Torture Victim Cedric Benson Lands on His Feet

Today's Lexington Herald-Leader has a good article by sportswriter John Clay about Cedric Benson of the Cincinnati Bengals. Originally a high draft pick out of Texas, Benson was still with the Chicago Bears when he was arrested ostensibly for public drunkenness on a Texas lake. Here's the football part of the story. Benson was cut by the Bears out of a job at the beginning of training camp and out of the league most of last year before signing with the Bengals and finishing strong.

So Benson sat. Training camps opened last season and Benson sat. Finally, a Texas grand jury failed to hand up an indictment for the boat incident, clearing Benson's return to the NFL, and Bengals owner and president Mike Brown did what Mike Brown does — he decided to give Benson another chance.

Only this one showed signs of working. Benson signed a one-year, $520,000 contract with the Bengals on Sept. 30. Featured back Chris Perry had been a huge disappointment.

An opening existed. Benson took advantage.

He topped the 100-yard mark in three of 12 games. As the year progressed, Benson resurrected his career and the Cincinnati running game. By week 16, against Cleveland, he rushed for 171 yards in a 14-0 Cincinnati victory.

But Benson's redemption is more profound than Clay let's on. It turns out that the original offence for which Benson was ultimately not indicted was "boating while black." More accurately, it was "being a millionaire black football player with a big boat the cops didn't like." Benson was hosting about 15 of his friends on an large recreational boat he owned when the police came on board to investigate public drunkenness. Evidently, it was the sixth time that police had boarded Benson's boat that summer. Here's Benson's account of the ensuing events as reported by "AFP:"

There was no resistance on my part," Benson said. "Was I drunk? No. . . They gave me a field sobriety test, told me to say my ABCs and told me to count from 1 to 4 up and down. I'm thinking I passed all the tests, did everything right . . . Then the officer told me we needed to go to land to take more tests. I politely asked him why we needed to go to land to take more tests when I took every test. Then he sprayed me with mace . . . I'm not handcuffed. I'm not under arrest. I'm not threatening him. I'm not pushing him. I'm not touching him. And he sprays me right in my eye . . . Nobody saw what he did to me. I started screaming for my mother to come. That's when they put me under arrest. And the officer threw a life jacket over my head.

Once we got to land, the Travis County police grabbed me and kicked my feet from under me. So I landed on my back while I was handcuffed. They held me down and held the water hose over my face. I couldn't breathe. I'm choking. I'm begging the cops, 'Please stop. Please stop.' Then they picked me up and dragged me backward toward their car. And I'm still being polite, asking them, 'Sir could you please allow me to walk like a man to your cop car?' They just kept dragging me on."

In other words, Cedric Benson got the exact treatment that Justin Barrett thought Henry Louis Gates should have gotten. Under the mistaken assumption that he had rights as a citizen, Benson asked a police officer a question and the police officer responded by spraying him with mace. Actually, the Gates analogy is not quite accurate. Barrett thought Gates should have been hit with "pepper spray" rather than mace. Still, given that Benson was not posing any kind of threat, spraying him with mace was still a form of torture.

Once the police got Benson back on land, other police officers added what Dick Vitale would call "a little French pastry" and got into some proper waterboarding torture by holding a hose to a face.

Poor deluded Cedric Benson.

He still wanted to be treated "like a man" even though the whole exercise looks like it was intended to strip him of any sense of manhood and citizenship he might have had.

The whole affair looked like an exercise in police criminality to me when I blogged about it last summer. It still looks like police criminality now.

After the arrest and attendant publicity, the Bears added further injury to Benson by cutting him, thus putting Benson's professional football career in jeopardy as well.

But then, a Texas grand jury failed to indict him and Benson got his chance to refer to the NFL with the Bengals.

Given the reputation of grand juries for being willing to indict a ham sandwich on a prosecutor's recommendation, the Texas grand jury must have thought that Benson's arrest was egregiously lacked justification to not indict.

But at this point, the story changes from the abuse and degradation of Cedric Benson by the police to Benson's redemption as a football player. It took a great deal of character and maturity for Benson to return from that kind of torture trauma at all. However, by all accounts, Benson was actually a better football player for the Bengals than he had originally been for the Chicago Bears.

He deserves a great deal of credit.

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