For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied." - Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 1963
It's been over one year since then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided not to stand for the national anthem during NFL football game. What began as one black man's response to racial injustice and police brutality has now grown into an ongoing protest phenomenon. Hundreds of players of all levels, sports and races continue to carry on the national anthem protest despite widespread threats and intimidation. Beyond all of the absurd accusations against these athletes, the reason for the protest is simple: racism, police brutality and injustice continue at absurd crisis levels in the United States. These protests have succeeded in forcing the discussion on this reality literally into the living rooms of millions. This was urgently needed, and we should support them completely.
From day one, Kaepernick was clear on why he wasn't standing for the national anthem:
“I am 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.”
Kaepernick's protest came at a time when police killings of unarmed black people were becoming more well known as cell phone cameras and social media allowed for the first time widespread documentation, but did not improve police accountability. Philando Castille was killed by a Minnesota police officer in front of his girlfriend and child as he reached for his wallet. The officer was acquitted. Terence Crutcher's car stalled on the road and he was shot to death by a police officer in Tulsa as he walked with his hands in the air. The officer was found not guilty. Freddie Gray died from neck injuries in Baltimore after police purposefully drove recklessly as he was handcuffed in the back of their paddy wagon. 3 officers were found not guilty. 3 had their charges dropped. No charges were laid on the officers who choked Eric Garner to death in New York for selling loose cigarettes. The video showed Eric pleading his last words, “I can't breath!” 18 year old Micheal Brown was shot 12 times in Ferguson and the police officer didn't even face a trail. 12 year old Tamir Rice was shot to death almost immediately after an officer pulled up and saw him playing with a toy gun. The officers have yet to be convicted of anything.
These are just some of the higher profile cases, and known only mostly because there was bystander video evidence. Beyond this, the statistics paint a terrible picture.
Black males aged 15-34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by law enforcement officers last year, according the Guardian newspaper. Blacks make up 13% of the population, yet they represent about 40% of the prison population.
It goes deeper than that as well. Black Americans hold only 2.7 percent of the country's wealth, and the racial wealth gap nearly tripled between 1984 and 2009, according to a Brandeis study. Blacks and Indigenous people have the highest poverty rates, around 28 percent, followed by Hispanics at 26.6 percent and whites at 9.9 percent.
A crippling 45.8 percent of young black children (under age 6) live in poverty, compared to 14.5 percent of white children.
It takes a whole lot of racism to justify this state violence and huge wealth disparity as natural or a product of genetics.
So if you're Colin Kaepernick, and you're aware of the past and present of racial injustice in the United States – is it really so strange that you wouldn't want to salute the primary symbol of the country which is responsible for perpetrating and maintaining it?
Who is Disrespecting the Veterans?
The most commonly sited offence of these players is that by kneeling for the national anthem they are somehow “disrespecting veterans”. This has been a favourite of President Trump and other right wing politicians. First of all, NFL players weren't even typically on the field for the national anthem until 2009, when the Department of Defense and the National Guard began paying the NFL millions of dollars for “patriotic displays”.
Secondly, who is really disrespecting veterans? 47,725, or about 8% of the US homeless population, are veterans. 45% of them are black or Hispanic. 1.4 million more are at risk of homelessness due to poverty, overcrowding in government housing, and lack of support networks. Even the Department of Veterans affairs admits that at least 20 veterans kill themselves every day in the United States.
So the government which sends people to war and then doesn't take care of them afterwards accuses the players protesting for fundamental fairness as being disrespectful to the veterans? It's disgraceful.
When Muhammad Ali passed away in 2016, politicians were falling over themselves to honour the great boxer. We can't forget that he was accused by their predecessors of the same things today's athletes are when he refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War in 1966. He was stripped of his World Heavyweight title and lost four years of his career. He remained defiant throughout:
“I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”
Kaepernick might pay a similar price, as he remains unsigned this season despite many quarterbacks of lesser talents getting NFL contracts. However, his leadership continues to expose America's crisis and give confidence to all of the communities who were already fighting for justice in the United States. Confronting racism is a key part of building unity among poor and working people and confronting the governments and corporations who really benefit from having us oppressed and divided. We need to support Colin Kaepernick, every athlete, and every person standing up to injustice and fighting for a better world.
Follow Thomas Davies on Twitter: @thomasdavies59
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