SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Sterling Brown hopes his efforts to work alongside law enforcement on improving practices used during arrests and stops will one day mean other black men don’t have to go through what he endured last year.
Just more than 13 months after police used a stun gun on him in the early morning hours at a Milwaukee Walgreens store, Brown knows he has an important responsibility to use his experience to make a difference.
“I have a platform now and I’m going to use it to help bring awareness and help bring change,” Brown said.
The Bucks guard insists he long moved forward from the ordeal, during which he felt the use of a stun gun was excessive and that he was targeted because he’s black. As a professional athlete, that’s what he gets paid to do: Let go of the failures and tough moments in a hurry. On to the next city, the next game. A new challenge.
“I’ve been emotionally, spiritually, physically stable since the incident happened,” Brown said while sitting courtside with The Associated Press after a shootaround during the Bucks’ recent visit to Sacramento. “... At the end of the day, I’m a professional and I’ve got a job to do and I’ve got to handle my business. There’s no sympathy if I’m down and out and complaining about it. It’s just next man up. I’ve got a profession that requires me to display it at all times. That really is what helped me just keep things flowing.”
Brown spoke on the same day the Bucks and Sacramento Kings hosted a summit to bring awareness about social injustice and to work to improve communication and relations between law enforcement, community leaders and citizens with the hopes of effecting change.
Sacramento was rocked last year by the fatal shooting of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man, and the intense protests that ensued. People joined hands outside the Kings’ downtown Golden 1 Center and blocked entrances. Former Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, now with the Warriors, paid for Clark’s funeral, then wore the man’s name on his shoes last Saturday night, hours after a district attorney decided not to charge two officers who killed Clark.
Brown acknowledges his relationship with police will likely never be the same after his encounter in Milwaukee and that it will always be extremely difficult to give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt.
“It’s what they do that gives the trust, so if they’re not responding accordingly to how they’re supposed to and according to the Constitution — they’re not doing things constitutionally — then you wouldn’t even be able to trust them,” Brown said. “If you were in my situation, you wouldn’t come out trusting them, and they violated your rights.”
Still, he is prepared to work with police in training exercises to make for better interactions in various situations.
A couple of weeks before his 23rd birthday on Jan. 26, 2018, Brown had been on a date when he made what was expected to be a brief stop. He parked in a handicap space.
Brown had been talking with officers while waiting for a citation outside the Walgreens at about 2 a.m. when officers took him down because he didn’t immediately remove his hands from his pockets as ordered. An officer yelled: “Taser! Taser! Taser!”
Police released body-camera footage that showed how a simple interaction over the illegally parked car quickly escalated.
“I feel like when the video came out that confirmed everything for a lot of people, but the Bucks did show nothing but support from Day 1, as well as my teammates and a lot of fans and definitely my family and friends,” Brown said.
Almost four months after the arrest, Brown received a formal apology from the city’s police chief, who said the officers had “acted inappropriately” and been disciplined.
Brown later filed a lawsuit saying his treatment for a parking violation constituted excessive force and that police unfairly targeted him because of his skin color.
“The police, they’re supposed to come to the rescue and when they are called to come to the rescue and they don’t handle the situation accordingly, then there’s things that have to be done different to make sure that they do come to the scene and do the correct thing,” he said. “I really just want to get more involved in some of their training tactics.”
Brown appreciated the Kings and Bucks putting on the summit, and plans to work with American Civil Liberties Union nationwide to increase his reach if possible.
He knows his platform can be a positive one after his encounter with Milwaukee police, who declined to comment for this story.
“The ACLU in Milwaukee did a few things to improve discipline tactics and training tactics for police officers,” Brown said. “I want to use it to educate kids. I want to use it to start programs and start different events that give kids things to do instead of being in the streets, to lessen the amount of contact they have with police officers. It’s a lot that I plan on doing. It’s going to take a lot of people. It’s going to take a strong push but I’m looking forward to it.”
His team has been supportive.
Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry said he was initially surprised by the incident because it didn’t sound like Brown — and there was never a question about the franchise backing the young player based on observations of how he had conducted himself.
“You try to get to know your players, just as people, and Sterling in my opinion was just a great kid,” Lasry said. “It didn’t make sense. ... As we got more and more information we sort of came to a crossroads: There’s Sterling’s side and there was the other side. For us as an organization, we ended up coming down on Sterling’s side, simply because we knew him as a person. Nobody really knew all the facts until the video came out, but we wanted to back him.”
Brown’s attorney, Mark Thomsen, called the Bucks’ response “significant” as well as the efforts by the two franchises separated by more than half the country.
Clark’s death on March 18, 2018, prompted Kings owner Vivek Ranadive to pledge his support and vow to address the issue over the long haul.
“When you have two primary institutions saying they’re going to back the players it really sends a message on the street,” Thomsen said.
And that, for Brown, is a positive first step.