Thabo Sefolosha was born May 2, 1984, in Vevey, Switzerland, to a Swiss mother and South African father. He has played in the NBA since 2006. He is a victim of American police brutality.
On April 8, 2015, Sefolosha was arrested in New York, along with his Atlanta Hawks teammate, Pero Antic, after a different NBA player, Chris Copeland, was coincidentally stabbed outside 1 Oak, the same nightclub the Hawks were enjoying. After the club was cleared out, the two were hit with charges after an official claimed to have “observed the defendant Thabo Sefolosha run in an aggressive manner towards the direction” of a different officer. Sefolosha was charged with obstruction of governmental function, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
In the process of bringing the NBA player in, the police broke his right leg, which would require surgery to fix his fractured tibia and ligament damage. It ended his 2015-16 campaign.
Video of the incident became public, and soon it was clear what actually happened.
Like many of the other innocent patrons who had nothing to do with the stabbing but were forced to leave 1 Oak, Sefolosha and Antic walked away from the building in the mass of people. Video shows five officers force Sefolosha onto the ground, beat him with batons and eventually carry him into a squad car, all while onlookers shouted of the man’s innocence. Sefolosha explained the entire event to Nathaniel Penn of GQ in October 2015.
Still, prosecution continued, and a plea deal was offered to Sefolosha that his lawyer, Alex Spiro, urged him to accept. But the player refused to accept and fought the charges. In October 2015, a Manhattan jury acquitted him of all charges, and later that month, Sefolosha sued the NYPD for up to $50 million in damages. The parties eventually settled on a $4 million payout, and Sefolosha said he would donate a substantial portion of the money to Gideon’s Promise, a non-profit aimed at training public defenders.
It took roughly two years from the date of the incident to the settlement for Sefolosha to receive final closure on the injustice that happened to him, a well-established NBA player with plenty of money in the bank, two measures of status that one might think would protect him from such a situation in the first place, rightly or wrongly. But no, nothing could save him.
Perhaps Sefolosha’s position is why he was able to win anything at all, from a full acquittal to a multi-million dollar settlement. Even if that is the case, though, it didn’t save him from having his leg broken by employees of the state.
This was five years ago. Barack Obama was the president. Donald Trump was considered a distant outsider in the Republican presidential primary. Police actions in the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others recently, plus response to the nationwide protests of the last few weeks, are not new. They are the norm.
Sefolosha spoke with Coy Wire and Jill Martin of CNN earlier this month about Floyd’s death and police brutality in America. He said he could see himself in Floyd, a message that has been echoed by many Black people recently.
“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.”
What happened to Thabo Sefolosha has been happening to people in this country for decades. His story is one of thousands upon thousands that exist. The difference is, his is one of the ones we know about, and unlike most, it finishes with a strongly-relative happy ending.
There is a long, dark history of police brutality in this country, especially aimed at people of color, and even more distinctly affecting the Black population. It is not new. It is not Republican. It is not Democratic. It is not white. It is not Black.
It is American.