San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to again sit down during the singing of the national anthem due to his stance against this country’s unfair, unjust and racist treatment of African Americans and people of color. And in the process, a firestorm has erupted on line and off line. Many support his stance and others decry that it is unpatriotic. Some question his motives. Others say that he should do more than just a silent protest. Then there are others who say the silent protest is inappropriate.
Regardless of what persons think about Kaepernick’s actions, he has every right under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to protest in the manner that he chooses. It is really a mild form of protest—except that Kaepernick is a public sports figure. And that is causing the hail storm of comments and controversy.
Kaepernick’s stance came about from his concern of police killing black people and people of color with impunity while continuing to receive a pay check. From 12 year old Tamir Rice, 17 year old Laquan McDonald, 18 year old Michael Brown, 22 year old Oscar Grant, 25 year old Freddie Gray, 43 year old Eric Garner, 50 year old Walter Scott , just to name a few, the police have no age discrimination when it comes to killing blacks. Kaepernick dared to take a stand against these actions.
For those who know history, this is not the first time that an athlete or public figure has spoken out against discrimination in the U.S. The “greatest” Muhammad Ali was vocal against racial discrimination. In the 1960’s, Ali spoke about why he wouldn’t go to Vietnam to fight for our country stating our country would not fight for his rights here in America. And over 40 years later, there is still discrimination against returning black veterans who have fought abroad for our country. Many of those veterans gave online support of Kaepernick’s actions.
At the 1968 summer Olympics, U.S. Olympians gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos raised their hands in the Black Power salute and lowered their heads in protest of racial injustice and inequality in the U.S., during the playing of the nation anthem. Both were later vilified by many at home in the U.S.
Symbolic silent protests on issues are not just made by black athletes. Recently last year, many officers of the New York City police department stood but turned their backs on New York Mayor De Blasio as he spoke during an officer’s funeral. Some police officers felt that De Blasio disrespected them when he spoke about warning his son Dante to be wary of cops and the dangers posed by them for African Americans. De Blasio ‘s son is biracial. The lesson that De Blasio gave his son is one that many African Americans must teach their children daily about police.
In President Obama’s first term in office in September, 2009, South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson shouted out “you lie” to the president during his speech. Wilson’s response was in response to President Obama’s statement on undocumented immigrants. While the comment was distasteful, disrespectful and downright racist, Rep. Wilson has a constitutional right to protest President Obama. His protest actions against the leader of the U.S. far exceeded the present actions of Colin Kaepernick. And the House of Representatives issued a formal rebuke—albeit along party lines.
For many African Americans, the reasons behind Kaepernick’s actions come as no surprise. When then Senator Barack Obama was running for office in 2008, Michelle Obama made the statement that “for the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.” She was almost instantly bombarded for her comments—viewed as negative by many white individuals. Yet, for me, when she made those comments, they resonated with my feelings about our country.
And standing in the cold frigid air in January, 2009 during the first inauguration of President Obama, I felt my first sense of patriotism and pride in the U.S. that I had felt in likely decades—far longer than I can even remember. I remember clutching the small American flag given to me. That moment was a very tiny speck on my patriotic spectrum. I woke up the day after the inauguration and saw that I was in the same America that discriminates daily against African Americans and people of color.
With all the police killings against African Americans and racism and hatred spewed daily towards African Americans, including against President Obama, I support Colin Kapernick’s actions. And he did the right thing.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal/political analyst and former prosecutor. She appears on Al Jazeera, BET, CBS, C-Span, Fox 5 DC, MSNBC, PBS and others.