Thabo Sefalosha is the first Swiss to play basketball in the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States. Although not a star like LeBron James or Kevin Durant, he is hard working and best known for his defensive prowess. Originally drafted and signed by the Oklahoma Thunder, he currently plays for the Atlanta Hawks who have a chance to win the title in the world’s most prestigious league. Imagine, after Federer and Wawrinka winning the Davis Cup, Switzerland has the chance to have a Swiss win the NBA title
Sadly, Sefalosha is now making headlines in the United States for other reasons, and he will not be playing in the upcoming playoffs. During an off-night in New York, Sefalosha and a teammate, Pero Antic from Macedonia, went to a downtown nightclub. There is nothing unusual about this. Ballplayers have no curfews on off nights. Early in the morning, a violent scuffle broke out in the club. Another player was stabbed; his wife was also injured.
From all that appears to have happened, Sefalosha and his friend had nothing to do with the incident. They were not involved. However, once the police (sometimes called New York’s Finest) arrived, trouble began for the Vevey native and his buddy. And it is here that cross-cultural comparisons are revealing.
When I mentioned the incident to my son – who was born in Switzerland but attended university in the United States – he said “Everyone in the United States knows that when the cops show up you run. Nothing good can happen.” Sefalosha stayed around. As a good Swiss, in spite of several seasons playing in the U.S., he either wanted to help or just wanted to know what was going on. He didn’t run.
When the police arrived, from what has been gleaned in news reports, they saw a large, black man wearing a hoodie sweatshirt near the night club. When they started to interrogate him, something untoward happened. A fuzzy video has a woman’s voice screaming “He had nothing to do with it”. Still, the video shows the police with sticks beating up someone who appears to be Thabo and there is the sound of a baton cracking something.
The next scene has the player limping out of the courthouse in handcuffs where he has been charged with obstructing authorities and disorderly conduct. Tests have shown that he has a fractured fibula and ligament damage which will require surgery. His basketball season is finished. In a public statement, Sefolasha said: “I will simply say that I am in great pain, have experienced a significant injury, and that the injury was caused by the police.”
We do not have definitive proof of what happened. We do not know how Sefalosha’s ankle was fractured. What all should know is that the relation between citizen and law enforcement officials in the United States and Switzerland are greatly different.
I am not referring to the shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, or in North Charleston, South Carolina. That level of violence or racism is beyond comparison or commentary. What I am referring to is the fact that while many Swiss complain about their security, their relationship to the police remains cordial and professional. People here are not afraid of the police as are many in the United States.
A jury will decide whether or not Thabo Sefalosha was obstructing authorities and disorderly conduct. We hope that a jury will also decide whether or not unnecessary violence was used by the police. What will need no court decision for is the difference between police violence in the United States and in Switzerland. Even someone like Thabo Sefalosha, who has lived in the United States for several years, should have known that.