For years I have heard conservatives complain, at times I think rightly, about the lack of free speech on college campuses, but the conservative mantle of free speech seems to give way when it comes to respecting the flag or patriotism.
In that sense, though, I doubt Colin Kaepernick really understood the impact of his action of silent protest, kneeling during the pre-game singing of the national anthem – he couldn’t have picked a more effective venue for his protest.
The reaction has been nothing short of shocking, with people calling him a traitor, stating he ought to be fired (even though the NFL has no rule that requires a player to stand for the national anthem), stating that, while he has a right to protest, they have a right to boo him or root against him.
Now, personally, I have always thought the playing of the national anthem at sporting events was false patriotism and archaic. While football is probably the least international of all sports, at a baseball game, a basketball game or a hockey game, you probably have 15 nationalities represented on the field and yet we ask the players to stand for the American (and occasionally the Canadian) national anthem.
That point aside, the response has been shocking. Some have suggested that he is the most despised NFL player among executives since Rae Carruth hired a man to kill his pregnant girlfriend. Others in the Twitter world have suggested he go find another country to move to or, as one columnist put it, “code for ‘Go back to Africa.’”
New York Daily News columnist Shaun King writes, “In other words, if you are white and think this country sucks, you should run for President on that premise, but if you are black and think the same thing, you should move the hell out.”
Mr. King continues with a very pointed and I think accurate point: “Talking heads, athletes, writers, and politicians all over America have expressed disgust over Colin’s silent protest. Well, I have a question. Exactly which form of our protest do you actually prefer?”
He points out, “I have yet to see a form of protest that you actually agree with.”
Mr. King adds, “Because here’s what I really know — you have not yet seen the harshest protests and boycotts that we could try next to wake this nation up and motivate it to actually right the wrongs of police brutality and racial injustice. You should welcome Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful and measured protest.”
I originally thought that the strong reaction was that people didn’t like mixing sports with politics, protest with the flag, but the reality after reading Shaun King’s column is they just don’t want to hear any form of protest from the black community. No form of protest has been considered acceptable.
The next shoe dropping is actually more interesting to me, and it is word of the Santa Clara police union saying its officers might stop working San Francisco 49ers home games.
The letter states that “some recent actions by a 49ers employee have threatened our harmonious working relationship. On August 26, 2016, prior to the start of the 49er pre-season football game at Levi’s stadium, on duty 49er employee Colin Kaepernick made the decision to exercise his right of free expression and not stand to honor the National Anthem. This expression caught the attention of the media.
“Following the game, your employee explained to the media that his actions were an attempt to get public attention to the oppression of African Americans and minorities in the United States by police officers. Your employee then insinuated that police officers are being placed on paid leave for murdering minorities. This statement is obviously insulting, inaccurate and completely unsupported by any facts.”
I find the response by the union interesting. I don’t know much about the history of the Santa Clara police but, while the 49ers now play their home games in Santa Clara, the last I checked they were still the San Francisco 49ers. The reality is that Mr. Kaepernick’s comments are pretty close to spot-on for the San Francisco Police Department.
In May, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr resigned after a 29-year-old African American identified as Jessica Williams was shot and killed by a San Francisco police sergeant as she allegedly attempted to flee officers in a vehicle they suspected to be stolen. She was unarmed and there was no indication that she posed a threat to officers when she was shot.
That incident was viewed by Mayor Ed Lee as the last straw. He said in a statement, “These officer-involved shootings, justified or not, have forced our city to open its eyes to questions of when and how police use lethal force.”
Mayor Lee said police shootings have “shaken and divided our city, and tensions between law enforcement and communities of color that have simmered for too many years have come into full view. … The community is grieving, and I join them in that grief.”
The death of Ms. Williams marked the third individual killed by San Francisco police since last December. The DOJ is currently reviewing the San Francisco Police Department after officers killed Mario Woods in December of last year.
Autopsies showed that Mr. Woods was hit by more than 20 shots. Police claim that the autopsy corroborated the investigation. “It is difficult for anyone to watch videos of the shooting. Similarly, it is equally as difficult to read the Medical Examiner’s report,” the statement said. “That said, newly released information in the autopsy report appears to corroborate facts gathered by investigators in the aftermath of this tragic incident.”
And that doesn’t even include the officers who have been implicated in sending racist and homophobic text messages. In one message from former officer Jason Lai, he made disparaging remarks about African Americans, Latinos, Indians, and LGBT people. In the messages, which are rife with racial and sexual slurs, Mr. Lai compared black people to “barbarians” and “a pack of wild animals on the loose.”
Using a Cantonese slur for blacks, Mr. Lai stated, “Bunch of hock gwais shooting each other. Too bad none of them died. One less to worry about.”
“It is chilling how casually former officer Lai dehumanizes the citizens he was sworn to serve,” SF Public Defender Jeff Adachi said. “He wished violence upon the very people he was being paid to protect and none of his colleagues turned him in.”
Sgt. Yolanda Williams, who was the target of some of the text messages released last year, said a year ago, “We know that this is not an isolated incident. This problem is systemic within the San Francisco Police Department and unfortunately there have been some who have chosen to turn a blind eye.”
We’re supposed to be surprised and appalled when an African American football player decides to protest and makes disparaging comments about the police? Come on.
Shaun King presents in his column some other scenarios. “What if NFL players decided to actually stop playing until this nation took our pain seriously? What if people of good conscience decided to stage an economic boycott unlike anything this nation has ever seen before?”
He adds, “What we are doing now is actually the tame, palatable alternative to those things, but it all seems to be too much for you — which is strange because you have said so little about the injustice itself.”
Exactly. People are more shocked by the form of protest than by the substance of it. Perhaps they doth protest too much.
—David M. Greenwald reporting