Student Opinion: Liberty and Justice for Some

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JEFF ROBERSON / AP

By Jacob Derin

Last Thursday, fans booed players on the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans for taking a moment of silence to protest police brutality, recalling the reactions to Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem.

America is burning, and we can’t seem to agree on what started the fire. If we want to put it out, we must confront widespread inequality and desperation.

After the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests, two narratives emerged. Stories of racialized police brutality were juxtaposed against the breakdown of law and order.

I have learned to be skeptical of such binaries, for they often obscure deeper truths. Lethal police action against Black Americans is the symptom of a much uglier disease, and societal cohesion cannot be separated from our fundamental values of justice and self-determination.

The great rallying cries of our time have become “Black Lives Matter” and “Make America Great Again,” with these slogans seen as somehow mutually contradictory –– just as protests during the national anthem are seen as somehow un-American.

But how can this nation be great if not all its citizens’ lives matter? Can this be a great nation in the absence of that fundamental value?

Unfortunately, we see so much evidence that some lives truly matter more than others.

Research strongly indicates that the disproportionate levels of lethal interactions between the police and Black Americans ultimately reflects deeply rooted economic inequalities.

A 2020 study by Lucas Mentch, published in the Statistics And Public Policy Journal, analyzed the rates of lethal police interactions by race at the level of individual counties across the country. There were wide disparities, especially between Black and Caucasian Americans, even after accounting for the smaller absolute population of the former.

However, these disparities did not exist when arrest rates were accounted for as Mentch states,

“On one hand, the reasonably close agreement between observed and expected victim totals when the resampling is done with respect to local arrest demographics might lead one to believe that no such bias exists.”

“Thus, if certain races receive increased attention from law enforcement, then this could, at least in part, potentially explain both higher arrest rates as well as higher proportions of shooting victims,” Mentch continues, “Stated differently, these findings would support the notion that whatever biases may exist on the arrest level also carry through to the level of fatal shootings.”

Mentch leaves open the possibility that these disparities are the result of some kind of implicit or explicit bias. What seems to cause these differences, however, are the number of interactions between police officers and members of a particular racial group.

Some counties, typically those populated by racial minorities, are more heavily policed than others. The question then becomes: why does this occur?

When I saw the verdict returned by the grand jury against Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, I was not angry at the jurors. I was struck with the tragic dissonance between the way our legal system treats people like Wilson and Kalief Browder, a black teenager of 16 who was held on Rikers Island for three years, without trial, over baseless accusations that he had stolen a backpack.

The truth is that the game really is rigged for some Americans.

In fact, the difference between the median accumulated wealth of a white family when compared to a Black family is approximately tenfold ($171,000 vs $17,500).

There is also ample evidence available to support linking social cohesion and criminality with wealth inequality. One study done at the Harvard School of Public Health by Ichiro Kawachi found that income inequality can explain 74% of the variance in homicide and about half of the variance in aggravated assault.

However, “social capital,” a measure of an individual’s self-assessed engagement with their community, is an even more powerful predictor and explains 82% of the variance in homicides and 62% of assaults.

Kawahi theorizes that there is a lot of overlap between these two factors, suggesting that high levels of income inequality are contributors to feelings of cynicism and a lack of engagement with one’s community.

This theory finds strong support from a 2016 study conducted by the International Monetary Fund, which identified a very strong correlation between economic inequality and lower levels of social capital.

Additionally, the study found that 82% of the variance in social capital could be attributed to income inequality.

This is the primary reason why there are so many more interactions between the police and Black Americans. Inevitably, some of those interactions will be lethal.

What we see on the nightly news or on YouTube is yet another act of police violence, expressing levels of tense frustration and a failure to understand where it comes from.

Violent crime is often committed by people who feel as though they aren’t being given a fighting chance.

This problem runs so much deeper than a few “bad apple” cops, or even corrupt police departments. It may run even deeper than race itself. Justice and liberty have become commodities, bought and sold.

In that context, I admit that I do not understand the men and women who are so offended by silent protests during the singing of the national anthem.

George Takei, known for his portrayal of Sulu on Star Trek, often speaks openly about this experience as a child imprisoned in America’s Japanese Internment Camps during the Second World War.

In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in 2015, Takei tells a particularly striking anecdote, concerning his feelings when reciting the pledge of allegiance in the camps, stating, “It became routine for me to line up three times a day to eat lousy food in a noisy mess hall.”

“It became routine to go with my father to bathe in a mass shower and begin the school day, ironically now, with the pledge of allegiance to the flag,” Takei said, “I could see the barbed wire fence and the sentry tower right outside my schoolhouse.”

And, with that symbol of imprisonment within his field of view, Takei was made to mouth the words, “with liberty and justice for all.”

Is it any wonder that today, those crushed under the weight of our pay-to-play system similarly resist affirming its barbed wire fences as “the land of the free?”


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15 thoughts on “Student Opinion: Liberty and Justice for Some”

  1. Keith Olsen

    In that context, I admit that I do not understand the men and women who are so offended by silent protests during the singing of the national anthem.

    And they don’t understand why the players can’t protest in some other way than kneeling during the national anthem.  For most people they want to watch a game free of politics, they didn’t sign up or pay for that.  They get enough of it as it is.  NFL and NBA viewing ratings are way down this year.  The players have the right to protest but it’s also the fans right to jeer, not watch and not spend their money on sports that exhibit protest.

    1. David Greenwald

      The funny thing is that the national anthem IS politics.  You don’t notice it because it’s your politics.  Military fly-by’s are politics.

      I find it funny – you complain when people’s protests get violent, but then you also complain when people’s protests aren’t violent.

      Ratings going down doesn’t help your case, it just to me proves how racist people really are.

      1. Keith Olsen

        The funny thing is that the national anthem IS politics.  You don’t notice it because it’s your politics.  Military fly-by’s are politics.

        Oh, so only conservatives love this country, the flag, the anthem and the fly-bys?  Progressives/liberals don’t?  Although you may not I think you’re wrong.

        Ratings going down doesn’t help your case, it just to me proves how racist people really are.

        You cry racism so much it doesn’t mean anything anymore when you say it.

         

         

         

        1. David Greenwald

          “You cry racism so much it doesn’t mean anything anymore when you say it.”

          What do you call it if you are so upset at a black man kneeling for 30 seconds that you stop watching the football game over it?

        2. Alan Miller

          What do you call it if you are so upset at a black man kneeling for 30 seconds that you stop watching the football game over it?

          Is that the setup for a punchline?

        3. Keith Olsen

          Here you go David, this explains it very well:

          But let’s be clear: The anthem and the flag symbolize the ideal of equality that America stands for, not those who failed to live up to those ideals. If you take a knee during the national anthem, you are not protesting racism in your country, you are protesting your country. There is a difference. You are not objecting to an evil that exists in America; you are saying America is evil. You are not saying we still have a long way to go in our journey toward full equality. You are saying that this country — where majorities twice voted to elect a black president — is fundamentally racist. And you are saying that the American flag and the American military are symbols of oppression.

          Doubt it? Ask Colin Kaepernick, the man who launched the anthem protests, what he is protesting. Last year, he 
          forced Nike to recall a flag-themed shoe because, the Wall Street Journal reported, it was “an offensive symbol.” He also accused the U.S. military of “terrorist attacks against Black and Brown people for the expansion of American imperialism” and tweeted that “America militarism is the weapon wielded by American imperialism, to enforce its policing and plundering of the non white world.” Do you agree? Then take a knee. But don’t say that you are not protesting our flag or our military when you do.
          If you want to protest the flag as a symbol of oppression, you are free to do so — because this is a free country. But don’t be surprised if millions of good and decent Americans take offense at your gesture. Many of them fought for that flag, or saw loved ones die or suffer grievous injury carrying it into battle. They beat back the evils of Nazism, communism and terrorism, and liberated tens of millions from death camps and gulags and unspeakable tyranny. Their sacrifice is the reason you have the freedom to express your opinions. When you disrespect the flag, you disrespect them.
          It’s one thing for pro athletes to do this, but quite another for members of Team USA. Playing for your country is a privilege, not a right. You should not be allowed to wear the stars and stripes while dishonoring the Stars and Stripes at the same time. Players who insist on doing so want to have it both ways: They want to be able to disrespect their country and play for it, too. The irony is that they are protesting against men and women who sacrificed their lives to uphold their principles, yet they are unwilling to sacrifice the opportunity to play a game. If you cannot stand for your country’s anthem, then don’t put on your country’s uniform.

          https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/news/opinions-kneeling-during-the-anthem-isn-t-protesting-against-racism-it-s-protesting-against-america/ar-BB15zUgi

           

        4. Keith Olsen

          For those that claim that the kneeling isn’t about putting down the anthem, America or the military then why did the architect of the kneel Kaepernick force Nike “to recall a flag-themed shoe because, the Wall Street Journal reported, it was “an offensive symbol” and “he also accused the U.S. military of “terrorist attacks against Black and Brown people for the expansion of American imperialism” and tweeted that “America militarism is the weapon wielded by American imperialism, to enforce its policing and plundering of the non white world.”

        5. David Greenwald

          I just don’t see this as anything but respectful and empowering and a show of unity with blacks and whites coming together.  I certainly see nothing to get exercised over.  Your obsession with this is astonishing frankly.  If they were doing the black power salute, then you might have more of a point.  But they aren’t.

    2. Bill Marshall

      Sorry KO… your focus and your hang-up with kneeling, (or, more accurately, ‘genuflecting’) as un-patriotic and/or expression of disrespect are unconvincing, big time…

      Turning one’s back to the flag and anthem, are disrespect… kneeling, genuflecting are not… as a long time youth soccer ref, when there is an on-field injury, coaches and parents often tell the kids to “take a knee”… to actually honor and show caring about the injured/hurt player, not as a sign of disrespect… the fact is that the ideals of the anthem (and pledge) are in fact, ‘hurt’ and/or ‘injured’, in the minds/beliefs of many… only the most callous would not see that…

      Heck, Catholics kneel or genuflect (take a knee) a lot during Holy Mass… we also stand and sit… the most profound parts, we take a one or two-legged ‘kneel’… and it is the exact opposite of “disrespect”!  The alternative we have to ‘kneeling’, is respectfully standing… yet, in sports over the years, many professional players perfunctorily stand, but as the cameras pan, many are chatting, looking anywhere other than the flag, and certainly not even paying ‘lip service’ to the anthem… so, who, truly, is being disrespectful?

      Reality check for people who ‘claim’ to care for the country, and only go thru certain “prescribed” motions, and don’t really give a damn…  posturing… no commitment… heck, POTUS holding a Bible up in front of a church for a photo-op, didn’t realize he had it upside down until a fawning staffer pointed it out… like he ever read it or took it to heart… same as to those who stand, get the words wrong, and even if they get them right (pun unintended) don’t take them to heart…

  2. Alan Miller

    Personally, if the NBA, NFL, violent protests, looting, Trump, Biden, Harris, Pence, the flag, the national anthem, the Davis Vanguard, and military flyovers all disappeared tomorrow, no loss from my perspective.  Note I didn’t say America disappear, just the symbols, big diff.

    If there’s anyone left who I didn’t offend, stop by for tea.  But call first, two years in advance.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Interesting… how do you feel about the flag of Israel?  The american version would be to have a big Christian cross, historically… not familiar with Israel’s ‘anthem’… perhaps, we should “imagine”, no national flags anywhere in the world (Lennon might approve, Lenin probably wouldn’t)…

      1. Alan Miller

        Don’t really have much ‘feeling’ about the flag of Israel.   Not sure I understand the question, which may be your answer.

        I imagine you are correct about Lennonin . . .

  3. John Hobbs

    What Keith Olsen fails to grasp or doesn’t care to acknowledge is that anyone’s patience wears thin after 400 years of systemic oppression. The “Kneeling” while the anthem plays is respectful protest. Black lives Matter tee-shirts and caps are quiet reminders. After the cops continue to kill and molest innocent unarmed black people unabated, the modest response of most protesters is respectful protest.  Sooner or later, that patience will wear too thin to protect those who fail to hear the pleas for justice.

  4. Bill Marshall

    Yes Keith O… the flag is so sacrosanct that you can buy a “Trumpy Bear”, with an American Flag in its back, ‘suitable for using’ as a blanket/leg-warmer… Trump supporters on motorcycles wearing American flag bandanas (Mt Rushmore rally)… use of American flag patches, used to cover holes in jeans, knee, butt, etc.

    Lots of respect for the American Flag…

    The ‘Anthem’ was a poem written by Francis Scott Key, later set to the music of a traditional English “drinking song”… obviously, also ‘sacred’…

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