Sterling Brown’s mindset during arrest: ‘Get home’
Bucks guard who is suing Milwaukee police and the city wants to be a voice for others
LAS VEGAS — Sterling Brown has stopped asking himself why his poor parking judgment resulted in him being surrounded by police officers, struck by a stun gun, handcuffed and arrested instead of receiving a parking ticket.
The Milwaukee Bucks guard has a platform as an NBA player and plans to be “that voice” to shine a light on the poor treatment of black men by police.
“I’ve questioned it a few times, just trying to brainstorm and figure out, ‘Why me?’ But I got a platform that a lot of people don’t have,” the 23-year-old Brown told The Undefeated this week at the NBA summer league. “And for the people that do have a platform that haven’t experienced it, it’s just something I got to take on and I just got to do it. I got to be that voice, and once it’s time to actually step up and do something and put things into play, I can’t look nowhere else but forward and try to make things happen.”
Brown’s encounter with police began around 2 a.m. outside of a Walgreens in Milwaukee on Jan. 26. Brown, who had a female friend in the passenger seat, said he planned to make a quick purchase in the store and parked his Mercedes-Benz across two handicapped-accessible parking spots. He said he was in and out of the store in about two minutes.
Brown admitted that he should not have parked there and deserved a ticket. But he also said the punishment from the police far exceeded the crime. Brown acknowledged there were no other cars in the parking lot during his quick late-night stop.
“During the day I’m not going to park double handicap,” Brown said. “I was literally in and out. But I parked in a double handicap. I should have been given a ticket, no doubt about it. That has no justification to what escalated afterwards. So I did it, but what came after, you can’t even compare it to what I should’ve gotten for what happened.”
When Brown returned to his car, he was confronted by Officer Joseph Grams. Police backup arrived and the situation escalated before Brown was arrested.
The Milwaukee Police Department released body camera video in May that showed Brown being taken to the ground, shocked with a stun gun and handcuffed even though he was not confrontational. Brown asked questions and was slow to take his hands out of his pocket when asked, but he remained calm. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said “as a human being, I am offended by what I saw on the video” and that Brown deserved an apology. Police Chief Alfonso Morales apologized for his officers’ conduct.
Brown’s mindset during his arrest was simply “get home.”
“I was trying to get out of the situation that was made,” Brown said. “I knew anything could happen and I tried to stay as calm as I could, especially once all the backup and everything came. I’m out there by myself. My [mindset] was definitely get home. At first, I was thinking, ‘All right, man, I got a ticket, I got to come out my pocket for some money, a big, healthy fine.’ Then once backup came, it was like, ‘All right, get home. Get home, get to your family, get back to what you love to do, get back to your job.’ That was pretty much my mindset.
“That’s why I tried to stay as calm as I could. I know myself, especially when things get heated. … But I couldn’t really [respond] because you got eight guys with badges on them. So you got to take the backstep just to win at the end of the day. My thought process was to get home.”
Brown spent several hours in a Milwaukee jail before being released around 8 a.m. He described his time in jail on a game day as a “little rough few hours.” Brown was never charged.
“I was thinking about the game the next day, and if I’m gonna be able to get out in enough time to make it,” Brown said. “I had a little time to myself to think. I got a different perspective of what actually goes on inside. I was just thinking about what I had to do moving forward as far as basketball player and as far as trying to not allow myself to get in a position like that again and to see the people that were in there, just try to see what I can do to help people in there that shouldn’t be in there. It was definitely an experience that helped me and gave me a different perspective on life.”
Brown attended the Bucks’ shootaround that morning in preparation for a game against the Brooklyn Nets. His arrest was first reported by Milwaukee radio station WISN, which cited a source stating that Brown confronted the officers who were writing him a ticket and “became combative.” The Milwaukee Police Department said in a statement that it was reviewing the incident. Barrett said he spoke to Milwaukee police management and Bucks president Peter Feigin and said there would be a transparent review.
Brown said he talked in-depth with Bucks management and his teammates about what happened. Asked if he was nervous talking about it, he said: “No. I did nothing wrong, and I live with everything I do. I don’t regret nothing.”
The 6-foot-6 guard had some bruises and marks on his face and did not speak to the media at shootaround. Brown scored four points in 27 minutes of a 116-91 win over Brooklyn and revealed little to the media afterward.
Brown viewed the game as a mental break from his nightmare hours earlier.
“It was time to do what I love,” Brown said. “It was time to put everything else to the side. I took a good shower before, relaxed myself, calmed myself and went out there and did what I usually do. That’s what I love to do.
“I put my all into it every time I step on the floor, so it wasn’t tough. I had a few things running through my head, but I had to bottle them up and turn them in the right way.”
Brown decided not to speak publicly until the police video was released. He spoke privately with his father, Chris; his brother, Shannon Brown, a former NBA guard; NBA commissioner Adam Silver; and select friends, such as Hall of Famer Allen Iverson.
Perhaps Brown’s toughest conversation was with his father, who had 30 years of experience as a police officer in Maywood, Illinois.
“I talked to my father on a father-son basis, not from a cop to a citizen or nothing like that, just father-son,” Brown said. “He was definitely mad about the video once he saw it. And then once all the other videos started getting released, the comments that certain officers were making, he definitely was upset.”
Additional body camera and squad car video released in June showed an officer stepping on Brown’s ankle while he was on the ground. Officers also talked about the potential backlash for arresting an NBA player, and another bragged about the overtime he would receive.
Brown has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Milwaukee Police Department and the city of Milwaukee.
“The first time I watched it in entirety was when news came out,” Brown said. “I’ve watched it about three times since. I watched it a few times just to put me in the mind frame that I’m not the only one going through this. So it’s just motivating me and adding fuel to what I need to do after the lawsuit and what I need to do to help everybody else that’s going through it that don’t have a voice.
“It’s not easy watching it. It’s not peaceful watching it, knowing that they pretty much were in the wrong in every situation, in every which way. I haven’t watched it lately, but when I was watching it, it was just to add a little fuel to motivation, just keep building that up to bring me to lawsuit.”
Three of the officers received suspensions ranging from two to 15 days, with eight others getting remedial training in professional communications. Brown does not believe the cops were disciplined enough.
“It’s set up the way it is and it doesn’t benefit the people that gets affected by it negatively,” Brown said. “And the officers that do what they do, that take the actions, a lot of them get off, and that’s not OK because anybody else, guys on the street that are doing the same thing that these officers do, they are going to get 100 times worse punishment, death penalties, prison, life sentences and all things.
“I definitely take this serious because they need to be held accountable. They need to have something more than a two-day suspension. That’s just an early vacation that they have taken. People taking lives and they are getting vacation and it’s paid leave of work? Paid? That’s not right in any sense. It’s not justifiable in any sense. You can’t say anything to justify that.”
Asked about the response he has received publicly, Brown said: “I’ve had negativity on social media, you know, guys hiding behind the screen and keyboards. But other than that, I’ve had people reach out and show love, especially in the city of Milwaukee. When I’m at a restaurant, people will come up to me, approach me, talk to me about the situation, saying that they love what I’m doing. Numerous amounts of people have reached out to me on Instagram, social media websites in full support, saying that they love what I’m doing, wanting me to show or put out their stories and all of that. So life has definitely changed. Now I’m more of a role model.”
Brown released a statement in May, saying the experience has led him to “stand up and tell my story so that I can prevent these injustices from happening in the future.” He believed his words would be stronger after video was released. He also preferred to wait until after the Bucks’ season was over. The Bucks lost a deciding Game 7 to the Boston Celtics in the first round of the postseason on April 28.
The Bucks organization also released a statement supporting Brown. The Bucks said while they are “grateful for the services of good police officers,” police need to have more accountability and “incidents like this remind us of the injustices that persist.”
“I feel like I had complete support from everybody around me, from my family to my teammates to the Bucks organization, so they made it a little easier to actually deal with it and try to put it in the back burners until the time to address it,” Brown said.
Brown said he appreciated an encouraging call from Silver after the police video was released. Silver said during a news conference on Tuesday that the league will continue to monitor Brown’s situation.
The NBA has had a lot of players in recent years, including Brown, speak out about police brutality and racial injustice. Silver described Brown’s situation as “tragic” and hoped it brought more attention to those topics.
“I don’t have any more words to express how disheartening it is to see,” Silver said about the video. “I’ll maybe just conclude by saying I’m still incredibly proud of the work that our players are doing in this area, not just the Brown family but how many of our players are engaged with social activism, in a very constructive way, focused on what we can do to improve our communities.
“With so much negativity around, I look at this league, and other sports leagues too, and other athletes, people are looking to the NBA and to other institutions like ours to say is there a way to come together to really try to solve problems. And I think this league is in a unique position to add in a very constructive way to the conversation that our country is having. It’s been a long tradition in this league.”
Mark L. Thomsen, Brown’s lawyer, told The Undefeated he does not expect Brown’s case to go to trial until next year if a settlement is not reached.
“The city of Milwaukee has requested a 30-day extension to answer the federal civil rights complaint. Mr. Brown and I remain optimistic that Milwaukee may be ready to accept full responsibility and move quickly to resolve the case before trial,” Thomsen said.
Brown wants to have a social impact that goes beyond Milwaukee and his hometown of Chicago.
“Once the case is over with, then it’s a full head of steam,” Brown said. “We are going to make some changes. We are going to implement programs. We are going to work with the city [of Milwaukee]. We are going to go out there, speak to the community and help the people. So, yeah, I’m definitely looking forward to it and I’m definitely in the loop of everything. Nothing is set in stone to what I’m going to do yet. A lot of brainstorming between myself, the Bucks, people in the community. Yeah, it’s a lot of brainstorming, but I haven’t set anything yet.
“This is nothing that just happens in the city of Milwaukee or in the city of Chicago, this happens everywhere. This is … coming to light, coming to surface in New York, Houston, everywhere. This is something that happens everywhere, so [Milwaukee and Chicago will] be the places that I start off. But eventually I want it to spread to every state.”
Brown averaged 17 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists in 27.8 points per game through four summer league contests after averaging 4 points and 2.6 rebounds in 14.4 minutes per game in 54 contests as a rookie. New Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer has been on hand for several of the summer league games, and Brown believes he will be a good fit in the new offense.
Brown expects Bucks fans to give him a warm welcome next season in his first home game since the police video came out.
“It’s going to be a good feeling to be back out there,” Brown said. “Seems like I’m gonna have a lot of support. I don’t think too many people will boo or do anything like that. But, yeah, I feel like it’s gonna be a lot of love and support in this building.”