By Barrington M. Salmon
“I’m not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
This bold declaration by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick at a press conference following a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers set off a firestorm that shows no signs of abating.
Mr. Kaepernick, 28, explained after cameras caught him sitting during the playing of the national anthem, that he was protesting police brutality and institutional racism reflected in stark disparities between Blacks in America and their White counterparts.
“People don’t realize what’s really going on in this country. There are a lot things that are going on that are unjust,” Mr. Kaepernick explained to a gaggle of reporters. “People aren’t being held accountable. And that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for freedom, liberty and justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”
“I’ll continue to sit. I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
Mr. Kaepernick, a Milwaukee native, hammered rogue cops. He said he, like many Black men, has been stopped by police and recalled when he and a friend were moving out of a house while in college. They were the only two Blacks in the neighborhood and neighbors called the police who came into their apartment uninvited with guns drawn.
“There’s a lot of things that need to change. One specifically? Police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable,” he said. “People are being given paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.”
When asked if he was concerned that his position could be seen as a blanket indictment of law enforcement in general, Mr. Kaepernick replied: “There is police brutality. People of color have been targeted by police. So that’s a large part of it and they’re government officials. They are put in place by the government. So that’s something that this country has to change.”
“There’s things we can do to hold them more accountable. Make those standards higher. You have people that practice law and are lawyers and go to school for eight years, but you can become a cop in six months and don’t have to have the same amount of training as a cosmetologist. That’s insane. Someone that’s holding a curling iron has more education and more training than people that have a gun and are going out on the street to protect us.”
Police union leaders were incensed, demanded an apology and in San Francisco, police officers are threatening to boycott Niners games.
Longtime civil rights activist Dr. Harry Edwards, a friend and advisor to Mr. Kaepernick, describes the professional athlete as “a man suddenly becoming aware his house is on fire.” Mr. Kaepernick said he had discussed issues of race with Dr. Edwards many times over the past several years and Dr. Edwards has been a mentor for quite a while.
“My position on Kaep is that he ABSOLUTELY has a constitutional right to express his opinion on the politics of diversity in America today,” Dr. Edward said in a statement to The Final Call. “He is courageous, well informed, and steadfast in his position. He is evolving through an ‘awakening’ and (perhaps) really understanding for the first time—given his background—the true depth and scope of the history of anti-Black racial hatred and injustice in America.”