Harlem Globetrotters Arrest 1983

By an edhat reader

Having lived in Santa Barbara for almost 53 years it occurs to me that many younger people and newcomers may never have heard of an infamous incident that occurred in December 1983 when three members of the Harlem Globetrotters who were out doing Christmas shopping on State Street were arrested by a bevy of armed police officers and made to lie face down on the sidewalk while handcuffed.

They were getting ready to leave in a taxi but suddenly were surrounded by a large number of police who were apparently looking for some other black men who had an hour before robbed a jewelry store. The fact that the three Harlem Globetrotters bore absolutely no resemblance to the descriptions of the actual crooks apparently did not matter. The three players later filed a lawsuit against the city.

3 Globetrotters Arrested in Error

New York Times
December 15, 1983

Three members of the Harlem Globetrotters were apprehended Tuesday night by the police, who mistakenly thought they had robbed a jewelry store.

Jimmy Blacklock, Ovie Dotson and Louis Dunbar were in Santa Barbara, a coastal city north of Los Angeles, for a game Tuesday night and were visiting a downtown jewelry shop about a half-hour after another jewelry store in nearby Montecito had been by three black men.

The players were waiting for a taxi when officers in a patrol car spotted them and thought they fit the descriptions of the Montecito robbers, who the police said were wearing athletic warmup suits.

When the players got into their cab, the police followed, pulled the cab over and ordered the three players out and onto the ground at gunpoint. They were then handcuffed and put in the patrol car.

The owner of the robbed jewelry store was called to identify the suspects, but said they were not the same men and they were released.


KEYT News Clip of Arrest

Globetrotters on Phil Donahue 1983


Written by ESL_teacher

What do you think?


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  1. It was a nationally discussed event at the time. I mean it was surprising that it took this long to be brought up as an issue pertaining to the events in MN. I was going to make a comment about it in the discussion threads. I grew up watching the Harlem Globetrotters, and for them to be treated the way they were was shocking to me. I was just a young UCSB student living in IV then. It was a big black eye for Santa Barbara.

  2. True fact: the jewelry store was robbed by three BMAs. Would you rather the police NOT stop a group of 3 BMAs in a cab because it might look racist if they did? And if anyone else can remember, I would say there have been at least 4-5 other times I can remember when jewelry stores here, on State and on Haley, have been robbed by BMAs. Handle hidden, fearing reprisal.

  3. @ Lucky, the suspects were described to be around 5’7″ in height. These were over 6’2″ and wearing different clothing than described. By your logic if suspects are described as “three white women” the cops have the right to order all groups of white women wine tasting or having brunch downtown onto the ground with rifles pointed at them. Now that would never happen would it, I wonder why?

  4. So sensitive Lucky777. Fearing reprisal from scathing posters? Way to stand behind your convictions. Your post shows how far we have to go. Would love to see 4:02’s suggestion that if an ethnic group commits a crime, all members of that ethnic group in the vicinity are handcuffed and made to lie face down on the sidewalk. That would ensure some quick changes in police tactics.

  5. Thank you for sharing this unfortunate event. I never heard about this. These are important details that need to be shared now, not hidden away in the SB ‘closet’. SB is not paradise, at least looking at our history which, like all communities, has examples of racial intolerance. And it is way worse up in the North County, in SY Valley especially. It needs to be discussed now. Forget all this white privilege discussion at this time. Let’s face up to the racial discrimination that has gone on for far too long.

  6. I remember they had them face down in the street and being so confused, as a kid, because I had just seen them play at UCSB. They were super stars at the time. There was local outrage, because there was a complete difference in the description of the guys who committed the robbery and the Globetrotters by 5-10″ in height.

  7. Jimmy Blacklock – “They asked me to lay down on the white line but the white line kept moving. I couldn’t find it, I was that nervous”. This has to be one of the key elements for immediate police reform. Specifically understanding how when nerves take over, the mind doesn’t always work. Especially when your environment changes so drastically.

  8. This is anecdotal but I literally saw (what looked like a local Valley) family shopping for Nazi memorabilia at the antique mall in Los Alamos. They gave me creepy vibes from the minute I saw them and their son was decked out in German military garb. And I saw another guy – twice – at the Tavern in a leather vest with a Nordic rune on it. He actually looked really cool to me until my husband pointed out to me that the rune was specifically associated with white supremacist and white power groups. Googled it when we got home and yeah…. super scary. Suffice to say he looked like a loser the second time I saw him.

  9. There are obvious things in policing that must change, and quickly. Our Police Chief, who is a woman i expert in community policing can choose to change tactics. 1) Why humiliate cooperative people? Why escalate resistance? Don’t make people lie down –face down on pavement handcuffed like cattle? Terrible image and treatment. Not a wise thing. Sit them in the car and get information. In DUI stops, do not promote hypothermia, panic–just arrest and test BAC. 2) Stop belief that handcuffs prevent a violent response;I can see simply asking for ID –but race is not “probable cause”. I recall “primer on cars” was considered probable cause of gang activity in LA. 3) Stop judges from longer sentences because these people are poor and give them opportunities of community service which we have done in the past here; 4) Prevent lawyers from making this all worse by preventing accountability and making excuses–that is racism at work; 5) Support good cops–use black
    omsbudpersons on- call to prevent violence and abuse by public videographers watching as well.
    Continue to humanize jails and protect staff from horrible behavior of inmates.

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