When I was in the military, “take a knee” was something NCOs would say to their troops indicating it was time to relay some information. In broader society, it has a different connotation, especially when it’s done during a rendition of the national anthem. Enter Colin Kaepernick and his national anthem protest.
The bench-warming (until recently), second-rate quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers (disclosure: my overly negative characterization is a reaction to him being a Niner, a team I detest as a Giants fan), started the trend as a protest against racial oppression and inequality.
Kaepernick stated in an ESPN interview that the reason “I think it’s become so blatantly obvious that athletes and people in general have to react.” Oh, they’re reacting, but is it a reaction that helps solve the problem? For that matter, is taking a knee or holding your fist up during the national anthem accomplish anything?
“For me, it was something that I couldn’t see another ‘hashtag Sandra Bland, hashtag Tamir Rice, hashtag Walter Scott, hashtag Eric Garner,’ the list goes on and on and on,” Kaepernick said. “At what point do we do something about it? At what point do we take a stand and as a people say this isn’t right?” He’s correct: it’s not right.
There are two universal truths that I think most Americans agree with: any innocent person of any color, gender or sexual-orientation who dies at the hands of the police is a tragedy. Equally, any law-enforcement officer should not be victimized in retaliation.
But is this really starting a national conversation about the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities? Or has it morphed into a conversation about what it means to be an American and respect the country that has given so many so much? The mainstream media, including the Huffington Post, NY Times, and Sun-Sentinel, among many others, think this is a patriotic act. And thus, the problem: What started as a well intentioned protest to shine a spotlight on social injustice has become a discussion about what it means to love America.
For the record, Colin Kaepernick, or any American, has the freedom to protest. This is not Nazi Germany, and there is no statute that says one MUST respect the flag or the anthem. That’s the way I want it. As much as I may disagree with burning the flag or kneeling during the national anthem, it’s what the true meaning of freedom it. As an American, I can’t sing about the “Land of the Free” when government is passing more and more laws that regulate behavior.
There is a flip-side to that coin: people have a right to voice their displeasure. Kaepernick has been booed. East Carolina’s marching band felt the fierce fire of a stern reaction from the crowd when they knelt. The Beaumont Bulls 11 & 12 year-old team was disbanded in the aftermath of theirs.
That has become the focus of the debate. Sure, every story pays lip service to the reasons behind taking a knee, but it is not bringing us together to solve the problem. And now the narrative has gotten away from him. It has stoked the anger of many people who would actually support the change that is necessary in this country. It has further divided us.
Real change takes more than words. In some cases, it takes more than a protest by a multi-millionaire before a game. It takes action. Enter Doug Baldwin.
Now that’s how you solve a problem.
The Seattle Seahawks players linked arms in protest, and then Bob Condotta reported for the Seattle Times,
“After the Seahawks they took action. As decided to link arms during the national anthem, their way of responding to recent police shootings and other social issues, receiver Doug Baldwin said the next step was for the players to turn their public stances into future action.” Then they met with Seattle police and were in the process of setting up meetings with law enforcement around the country.
“That’s the first step, is <sic> to have communication. We need to know the perspective of other people. The greatest tragedy for any human being is going through their entire lives believing the only perspective that matters is their own. We need to break down those walls and barriers and get people to see that there’s perspectives outside of their own eyes,” Baldwin said.
Now that’s how you solve a problem.
Both police and minority communities have to listen to each other. They have to understand each other. They have to work together. Without mutual understanding and respect, there will be no progress. Without it, we will have more victims and distraught, broken families. Bridges have to be built, and it will be men like Baldwin, his teammates, and the law-enforcement officials willing to meet them who will build them.
I’m tired of talking about whether Kaepernick and his mimickers are being patriotic. It’s irrelevant to the larger issue and a distraction we should be ignoring. Police-related shootings of innocent Americans (of any color) are a problem. The murder of cops just trying to do their jobs is a problem. The relationship between law enforcement and American communities, especially minority ones, is a problem. If we want them fixed, we have to support those like Doug Baldwin and his teammates who are making the effort to do so.
Those are my thoughts. What are yours? Use the comments section to weigh in.
Mikael Carlson is the award-winning political fiction author of The iCandidate and the Michael Bennit Series of political dramas. He has also written the thriller The Eyes of Others. His current series, The Black Swan Saga, are epic dystopian political thrillers that showcase a world of corporate governance dominated by elitists. The first two novels, America, Inc. and America, Inc.: Bounded Rationality are available now. He lives in Danbury, CT.