Calling it a "traumatic experience" he was lucky to escape, Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett says the incident he was involved in with Las Vegas police last month strengthened his resolve to be an advocate for oppressed people.
"It was a traumatic experience for me and my family," Bennett said while speaking to reporters at the Seahawks' facility on Wednesday afternoon. "It sucks that the country we live in now sometimes you get profiled for the color of your skin. It's a tough situation for me. Do I think every police officer is bad? No. I don't believe that. Do I believe that there's some people out there that are judging people on the color of their skin? I do believe that. I'm just focused on trying to push forward and keep continuously ... the quest for justice for people. Keep pushing the quality for oppressed people."
Bennett announced Wednesday morning in a statement on Twitter he was considering filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept. for allegedly using excessive force on him as they investigated what initially was reported as a shooting last month. He claimed the police singled him out among a group of people who were fleeing away from what sounded like gunshots. Bennett said a police officer ordered him to the ground, pointed a gun at his head and told him not to move or he would "blow my [expletive] head off." Bennett said a second officer forcefully jammed his knee into his back, making it difficult for him to breathe, before handcuffing him and eventually putting him in the back of a police car.
Kevin McMahill, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept. undersheriff, said during a news conference Wednesday the department has opened an internal affairs investigation of the incident.
"If the investigation reveals that any policies or training were violated, those officers will be held accountable," McMahill said.
McMahill added, however, that he believes Bennett was not treated differently because of his race.
"I can tell you as I stand here today that I see no evidence of that. I see no evidence that race played any role in this incident," he said.
While Bennett wouldn't discuss any additional details of the incident with reporters, he said the incident made a big impact on him.
"I know a lot of people are like 'Oh. Did he want this on himself?' I did not ask for this moment. It just happened to be me," Bennett said. "I'm just lucky to be here to be able to speak about it. At any moment I could've made the wrong decision or rather move and felt like I was resisting or doing something wrong and you guys would be wearing, the Seahawks would be wearing the patch with No. 72 on it.
"So I'm just lucky to be here right now to be able to continuously fight for people, fight for the equality of all people regardless of their color, regardless of their gender."
Bennett was not arrested or charged in the incident.
"What happened with Michael is a classic illustration of the reality of inequalities that are demonstrated daily," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters Wednesday. "May this incident inspire all of us to respond with compassion when inequalities are brought to light and allow us to have the courage to stand for change. We can do better than this."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a message of support for Bennett:
Michael Bennett represents the best of the NFL -- a leader on his team and in his community. Our foremost concern is the welfare of Michael and his family. Whille we understand the Las Vegas police department will address this later this evening, the issues Michael has been raising deserve serious attention from all of our leaders in every community. We will support Michael and all NFL players in promoting mutual respect between law enforcement and the communities they loyally serve and fair and equal treatment under law.
The incident occurred nearly two weeks after Bennett first sat during the national anthem before a preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams to raise awareness to racism and violence in the wake of the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Bennett said he plans to sit during the anthem all season.
"People ask why I sit down. This is why," Bennett said. "This is the thing that I go through, what people go through that look like me."