WASHINGTON — Former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Jay Pharoah says Los Angeles police pulled guns on him while he was working out, and kneeled on his neck as they handcuffed him for a suspected crime.
The comedian, known for his veracious impressions of actors, politicians and other public figures, released a poignant video message Friday on Instagram. It includes footage of four officers with their guns drawn handcuffing him on the sidewalk.
An officer is seen putting his knee on Pharoah’s neck. “It wasn’t as long as George Floyd, but I know how that feels,” Pharoah says in the video.
He’s making the statement as the country is experiencing a social reckoning with police brutality and racial injustice. Protests have gone nationwide after Floyd’s death on May 25 while in Minneapolis police custody. His death, as well as those of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other black people, have been the recent catalyst for demonstrations and civil unrest across the U.S.
Pharoah said his encounter with police happened about a week before video surfaced last month of Arbery’s death. A white man shot and killed the 25-year-old black man who was jogging on a street in Brunswick, Georgia, on Feb. 23.
Pharoah, a 32-year-old black man who was on “SNL” from 2010-2016, says that he had been exercising and crossing the street when police approached.
“I’m still here to tell my story but I could have easily been an Ahmaud Arbery or a George Floyd,” he says, beseeching people to educate themselves on the legal system.
Los Angeles police said Pharoah was detained as a possible criminal suspect and released after officers realized they had made a mistake, news outlets report. Police say they’re investigating the encounter.
Police spokesman Drake Madison told The Guardian and USA Today that the department is also looking at the footage in Pharoah’s video, adding that they gave him a document to file a misconduct complaint.
“We are aware of this incident and it’s under investigation with our Professional Standards Bureau, Internal Affairs Division,” the Los Angeles Police Department told NBC News Saturday.
Pharoah said the officers apologized, telling him that he fit the description of a black man wearing gray they were looking for. He said he had never been put in handcuffs before and that his parents tried to shelter his family from racism.
“I am a Black man in America, proud to be but this is AMERICA,” Pharoah says in the social media post. It also includes the hashtags “#BlackFilter, #blacklivesmatter and #blackandproud.”
A time stamp in the top left corner of Pharoah’s 4-minute 30-second video shows that the footage was captured on April 26.
Shortly before posting the video of his experience with police, Pharoah shared a clip of fellow black comedian Dave Chappelle’s surprise Netflix special Thursday, writing “The GOAT speaks” with the hashtags “GeorgeFloyd” and “tiredofbeingsickandtired.”
Chappelle’s 27-minute show is titled “8:46,” which is the amount of time the since-fired police officer was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck before he died. The comic gives his take not only on Floyd’s killing, but the broader issue of racism against black people in America.
On Saturday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced Police Chief Erika Shields’ resignation after an officer shot and killed a black man who snatched an officer’s Taser and ran after a struggle in a Wendy’s parking lot. The mayor said she doesn’t believe the shooting Friday night of 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks was justified. The killing sparked a protest at the scene.
Jay Pharoah arrives at the NBA Awards on Monday, June 24, 2019, at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
In a reenactment with a knee on his neck, Pharoah ends the video saying, “We as a country can’t breathe anymore, and we are tired. We are sick and we are tired of it. I can’t breathe.”
Rolling Stone magazine ranked Pharoah the 55th greatest “Saturday Night Live” cast member in 2015.