Is anyone still criticizing quarterback Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem? “Some people say” that his actions are not a protest but disrespect for the American flag. I’ll tell you my view of disrespect for the flag: police killing unarmed citizens. Now that we have legalized open carry in so many states, I’ll amend that: police killing unthreatening armed citizens.
This protest could apply to citizens of any color. But it’s an indisputable fact that non-whites—and specifically, African Americans—have been disproportionately killed in this way.
Kaepernick has company. It’s encouraging that many NFL Players are protesting during the national anthem. But not one of the protesters in this list is white. That needs to change.
Carolina Panthers player Tre Boston said that his team is looking for a way for the entire team to make a statement where “…nobody can misinterpret the direction we want to go with our protest.”
There has been plenty of mischaracterization. The Charlotte, North Carolina, protests were called riots, with the marchers seeking to disrupt. But what is happening to African Americans right now does need disrupting. Consider the last six words in the pledge of allegiance: “…with liberty and justice for all.” The marchers are out there seeking justice.
That would be the justice that our country and its flag promises to every citizen.
North Carolina Congressman Robert Pittenger, a white man, explained the marchers in a BBC interview: they “…hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.” But the crowd scenes I viewed included a significant number of white people. Thankfully, public opinion forced that same congressman to apologize later. If only it could change the way he thinks.
Consider this portion of the never-sung third verse to the Star-Spangled Banner:
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
That’s our national anthem affirming that people can be property, even in the so-called “land of the free.” We may have ended slavery, but 150 years later, we still have not ended the stigma of having once been sub-human property.
The news cycles have long since moved on to tightening presidential polls, debate performances, and tax returns. But Kaepernick continues to kneel because men of color continue to die, for seemingly racist reasons.
The damage of these deaths festers in their communities and in our national conscience. It will never go away for their families. I don’t seek out these stories in my daily newspaper or on the internet. But they find me. I offer to you a small sampling of the ways that our culture continues to place people of color into a lower class, worthy of suspicion, fear, discrimination …and death:
- Eugene Robinson argues in the Washington Post that in America, gun rights are for whites only. In the age of open carry, he asks: “Are all men carrying guns believed to be carrying guns illegally, or just black men?”
- More than a year ago, an article about white privilege by Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts similarly lamented that gun laws are enforced differently, depending on your skin color. Pitts compared the less-than-two seconds it took a police officer to shoot 12-year old Tamir Rice, who was brandishing a toy gun, with the 40 minutes that police spent talking down a white man who was brandishing a shotgun in the middle of the street. The white guy not only survived, he got his gun back the next day.
- While searching YouTube for those two videos, I came upon others featuring white men in open-carry Michigan taunting police with their weapons—and of course not being killed. Consider that—none of them shot or even chastised— while Leonard Pitts presents a heartbreaking list of black males killed by police for possessing a gun but never actually threatening anyone—least of all the police.
- Consider the anger and anguish of Keith Scott’s wife Rakeyia, whose cell phone recorded all this: the prelude to his shooting, her pleas to the police to not shoot him and her admonitions that he had mental health issues, the horror of his shooting, and its aftermath.
Keith Scott was waiting for his child’s school bus when police arrived looking for someone else, but decided that he was dangerous.
Video from one of the Charlotte, North Carolina, police cars shows Scott leaving his vehicle, backing away from it with both hands at his sides, and four shots ringing out. He falls. Police swarm in. I see him face-down on the ground, either dead or dying, unmoving as the police chant to each other, “Handcuffs! Handcuffs! Handcuffs!” They handcuff an inert man lying face down in a pool of his own blood. You can hear Rakeyia Scott in the background, screaming in disbelief, “Did you shoot him? He better not be fucking dead!”
- Cringe at this video of Steve Harvey describing what black men must do to stay alive during a traffic stop: keeping your hands on the wheel isn’t good enough, you have to put your wrists on the wheel and splay all ten fingers. From what I’ve seen in the news and on cell phone video, even that could get you killed.
- If you can stand any more, you might be done in by this video of unarmed Terence Crutcher being shot while complying with police. The Tulsa cop fired her gun seemingly without provocation.
There are so many more stories and videos that I could list here. I won’t, but please know that they exist.
It would be easy to simply blame police brutality and racism for these deaths, and it’s my amateur judgement that in many instances you can do exactly that. But the police, whose main tools are authority and the physical force to back it up, are asked daily to perform the work of mental health professionals. Too often, their first instinct is to point their weapons at people and shout commands.
Citizens who have louder voices inside their heads, or distrust of the police in their hearts, ignore the police shouts—and die. For their part, the police—as with Rakeyia Scott—often cannot hear anything but their own shouts. Some of that is training and some of it is daily stress.
Police fear of violence against them is justified; they are exposed to deadly danger every single day. The insane number of guns owned in this country, combined with the insanity of open carry in so many states, makes confrontations—and deaths—inevitable.
In late September, police fatally shot an unarmed black man at a San Diego area strip mall on Tuesday afternoon, after responding to a call that he was acting in an “erratic” manner. The man pulled an object that could have been a firearm (but was not) from his pants pocket, and assumed a “shooting stance.” How could officers facing such an instant challenge, not open fire? Photos of the incident confirm that sequence of events, and the challenge. I don’t blame the police for that killing; I blame our gun culture.
A Dallas Police Department sergeant filed a federal lawsuit against several leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement, against the heads of other prominent black organizations, and against President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—for inciting racial violence against U.S. police.
My opinion? That policeman should be suing the NRA for that very crime.
I haven’t even touched on the sins of the criminal justice system.
A shocking 163-page report from the Justice Department accuses the Baltimore police force of “racially discriminatory policing” residents and routine unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests of blacks for many years. The abuse didn’t stop there: women who reported sexual assault were humiliated by male officers; officers declined to gather evidence and ignored prostitutes’ complaints.
Not one of the six Baltimore cops charged with crimes related to Freddie Gray’s death-by-police-custody got even a legal wrist slap. It is known, it was admitted, that they took him on an intentional “long ride” around the city, after handcuffing him and throwing him onto the police van floor. It is known that this long ride injured him fatally. Please tell me how that is not legally punishable in any way.
State’s Attorney for Baltimore Marilyn Mosby first spoke with Baltimore police officers about Gray’s injuries a day after he was arrested. Police had been cell-phone recorded holding him down and dragging him to a van while he screamed in pain.
Mosby could not get the Baltimore police to cooperate in her investigation; the blue circle closed around the force. “We couldn’t trust that they were going to follow through with everything that we needed,” she told the Washington Post.
The police failed to execute a search warrant ordering a look at officers’ cell phone communications while Freddie Gray was in the van, and Mosby recognized that “…we cannot rely on them, so we have to do something other than working with them.” She filed charges and brought officers to trial, but could not achieve a conviction.
It’s not surprising that a workplace would close ranks around its own. It’s not surprising that an industry, faced with complaints about its product, would close ranks around its own and fight back. But we are talking about lives lost, not faulty product recalls or financial misconduct.
In mid-August, the police killing of Sylville Smith at a traffic stop—a young black man apparently armed, sparked riots in Milwaukee. He had a gun! Driving While Black is now supplemented with Armed While Black.
Racism could easily be a factor causing the traffic stop. But this tragedy, like so many others, is just as much a product of the gun culture: 23-year old Smith had been robbed so often that he felt the need to carry a concealed weapon. NRA fanatics, please look at how well that action served him. He got a weapon to defend himself—just like you want everyone to do—and now he’s dead …possibly for the very reason that he had a weapon.
Consider it. Possessing a gun was not the best protection for Sylville Smith or Philando Castile or Keith Scott. What would be protection, for them and for Michael Brown and Alton Sterling and Tamir Rice and God knows how many other young black men? Simple: being white.
Think about Freddie Gray bouncing around in a police van with an injured spine. Think about Eric Garner, a black man strangled by police for reselling single cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. That public murder is on video, and just as with young Tamir Rice, not even an indictment.
Then don’t wonder why people of color riot in Milwaukee or Charlotte at yet another fatal shooting.
I do have a couple of hopeful notes regarding the police:
The first appears to be justice actually meted out by a court: A white ex-police officer in Virginia was convicted of manslaughter for fatally shooting an unarmed 18-year-old black man in 2015 while investigating shoplifting. He had fatally shot an unarmed man once before.
Second, some good news out of the July attack on police in Dallas: applications for police jobs there went way up, after Police Chief David Brown told people at a press conference, “Get off that protest line and put an application in.” People did, the department saw a huge influx of applications, possibly because of Brown’s eminently sensible promise to “…put you in your neighborhood and help you resolve some of those problems.”
David Brown for President! He’s retiring, maybe he actually could run…
It takes no genius to understand that “Stop and Frisk” aficionado President Donald Trump would be no friend to people of color, no matter what drivel he sells in speeches. I wish I could say it will be different with President Hillary Clinton. But hope for the Democrats to win back the Senate is fading, and there is no chance they’ll take the House. Without some luck, even appointing Supreme Court justices will be a major battle. Forget about accomplishing anything else.
I don’t question Hillary’s heart, but she missed a natural opportunity to show it to us. During the first debate, her answer to Lester Holt’s plea for a plan to heal the racial divide got wonky immediately. Good ideas, but her delivery was a stilted reading of an inner note pad. I was longing to hear “My heart aches for the families who have lost a loved one.” She could have mourned those five fallen Dallas Police Force officers, along with so many unarmed, innocent black men killed just this past summer.
I won’t leave you like this. There’s no real need for my comments on the debate, given the endless analysis available everywhere. But I did find an interesting viewpoint from London Daily Telegraph columnist Tim Stanley:
Trump would have won easily—if the debate had appeared on Reality TV—because that is where he learned his television savvy. I’ll drive that point home with this spirited “debate” between Meatloaf and Gary Busey on Celebrity Apprentice:
For all his Trumpian screaming and anger, Meatloaf is proven wrong at the end. And cannot apologize.
Political Survivor #56. Subscribe!