Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers quarterback takes a knee on the cover of October’s TIME magazine. His peaceful protest of the national anthem to draw attention to racial injustice–particularly in light of the police shootings of unarmed black men–created a ripple effect.
His fans chant “we want Kaep” and some fellow NFL, college and high school football, women’s soccer, and WNBA players adopted the protest. National Basketball Association two-time MVP, Steph Curry, and L.A. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers both support the protest also.
However the growing number of athletes and school bands kneeling, raising fists or staging die-ins during the the national anthem hasn’t stemmed the criticism. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg called the protest “dumb,” and Kaepernick and others have received death threats. Denver Broncos’ Brandon Marshall lost a lucrative endorsement.
Former players, turned-sports-analysts such as Trent Dilfer and Rodney Harrison sold Kaepernick out. To summarize Dilfer: focus on becoming the starter (Kaepernick was named starter October 11) so you can entertain us, or just sit down and shut up. To paraphrase Rodney Harrison: Colin’s not black enough to speak out. He should be quiet and write a check to organizations that make a difference.
Problems? What Problems?
Then there’s the thoughtful and articulate, former Chicago Bears coach, Mike Ditka, who offered this commentary:
“I don’t see all the atrocities going on in this country that people say are going on. I see opportunities if people want to look for opportunities. Now, if they don’t want to look for them, then you can find problems with anything.”
Few would disagree that there are opportunities awaiting those who diligently search for them. But in what way do these problems indicate people are not looking for opportunities? Wasn’t Sandra Bland about to enjoy a new employment opportunity before meeting Texas State Trooper, Brian Encinia? Wasn’t Dr. Ersula Ore already fulfilling an opportunity? The English professor at Arizona State University was slammed to the ground, arrested, and jailed by campus policeman, Stewart Ferrin, for jaywalking.
Was bikini-clad, 15-year-old Dajerria Becton overlooking her opportunities when she was slammed to the ground and mounted by Officer Eric Casebolt? What about Ramarley Graham, Philando Castile, Walter Scott, and Terence Crutcher?
Kaepernick’s critics echo Ditka’s sentiment as they charge him for being unpatriotic and un-American. They condemn Kaepernick for being disrespectful of the military, in spite of Twitter support at #veteransforkaepernick. One of the veterans of notoriety featured there is former Navy SEAL and former Minnesota governor, Jesse Ventura:
“I served my country, so that you have the freedom to protest,” Ventura wrote. “I salute Colin Kaepernick. I fully support him. . . governments should not mandate patriotism. Governments earn patriotism. You earn that. Who mandated patriotism? The Germans in the 1930s. They mandated patriotism. That’s what we want to be? We want to build walls now and be East Berlin? That’s the direction of the United States today?”
Protest As A Cherished American Tradition
So what direction is America heading and how does it differ from where we came? Interestingly, protesting against police brutality, unreasonable search and seizure, and lack of accountability for law enforcement is an American tradition. One of the events that highlights the tension between the colonists and the police state under which they lived was the Boston Massacre.
On the evening of March 5, 1770, a young man named Edward Garrick accused a British Officer, Captain John Goldfinch of misconduct. Goldfinch didn’t pay his bill at the wig-making shop where Garrick worked, to be specific. While Goldfinch ignored the young man, nearby Private Hugh White did not. He confronted Garrick for insulting an officer and tempers escalated until White struck Garrick’s head with the butt of his musket.
Garrick cried out loudly and crowds started filling the street quickly. As word spread that a soldier had struck a civilian over something so trivial, the already resentful townspeople confronted White, and his backup.
What developed was far from an arm-in-arm singing of “We Shall Overcome.” The protest of these Patriots was as provocative as anything in American history. After the crowd lobbed insults and hurled objects hurled at them for a while, one soldier fired a shot, followed by a volley from his comrades. Five civilians dead. Three wounded.
Identifying With The Oppressed
Although this event occurred before the actual Revolutionary War, the civilians killed that day have been widely regarded as the first martyrs of the war that birthed this nation.
Crispus Attucks, an African American of mixed heritage, was the first to die. He was a runaway slave who experienced the reality that according to society’s accounting, one drop of “black blood” makes you black.
African-Americans fought on the forefront ever since, bravely serving in war after war. Many hoped their valor would be recognized and rewarded by finally becoming partakers of the promises penned in the nation’s founding documents. Unfortunately, the establishment of justice for all proved elusive over the centuries.
Changing Times and Changing Tactics
While fighting for the common defense of the nation, African Americans fought double duty for their own freedom. This, after the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, and numerous Civil Rights Acts beginning in 1866. Learning to fight Slavery By a New Name means continually forming overground railroads to rescue our children from the “School to Prison Pipeline” and “The New Jim Crow.”
Whatever the form of protest, however, deflection and distortion meet it head-on. There is never an acceptable way for black people to protest racial injustice. Martin Luther King, Jr. was hated for advocating non-violent protests for integration. Malcolm X was hated for affirming the right of self-defense and advocating separation.
Although the colonists violently revolted against tyranny, they and their offspring have always demanded peaceful demonstrations for gradual solutions from those they oppressed.
Although the colonists violently revolted against tyranny, they and their offspring have always demanded peaceful demonstrations for gradual solutions from those they oppressed. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were hated for standing up. Rosa Parks and Colin Kaepernick are hated for sitting down. Black Lives Matter activists are even ridiculed when they lie down!
Law And Order Advocated Evenly
King preached peace, but warned America that many, especially younger generations, were becoming disillusioned with the lack of progress. Echoes of “By Any Means Necessary,” “Burn Baby Burn,” and “Black Power,” began to overwhelm his melodious “I Have a Dream” in the ears and hearts of the oppressed.
Thankfully, riots, which Dr. King referred to as “the language of the unheard” have been relatively restrained. This is because most African-Americans desire law and order. Anarchy does not beget accountability, lawlessness doesn’t lead to liberty, or rioting to righteous judgments.
Yet, the cry for law and order must come with justice. That means those who enforce the law should also be subject to the law. If civilians must deescalate conflict or lose their liberties, so should those who “keep the peace.” If lawyers must recuse themselves in certain situations and doctors shouldn’t treat themselves or immediate family members, then maybe police shouldn’t be the primary ones investigating themselves either.
As long as white officers escape meaningful consequences for killing unarmed black men, and beating black women and children, then our nation’s banner doesn’t represent one nation, or liberty, or justice for all. As long as these issues are swept under the flag, there will be those whose conscience objects to saluting the Star Spangled Banner. As the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, stated when on trial in 1521 at the Diet of Worms, “to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”
Kaepernick’s demonstration police brutality is as American as the Boston Massacre. If they were considered patriotic in 1770, why are today’s protestors maligned as unpatriotic? Peacefully protesting by refraining from a national ritual is not being anti-police, but anti-police brutality. These protestors are not anti-American, they are advocates of American ideals being upheld for all.
The Christian Tradition Of Protest
If we believe in the infallibility and inspiration of the Word of God, we know when one member of the body of Christ hurts, all hurt. Also consider this: “And the soldiers asked him, ‘And what are we to do?’ ‘Don’t bully people, don’t bring false charges, and be content with your pay,’ he replied” (Luke 3:14, J.B. Philips).
Protesting against police brutality is not just an American tradition, but a Christian one as well. Just as Christian faith instructs one to honor authorities (Romans 13:1-7), it also affirms the right to insist the authorities act justly (Acts 16:35-38; 22:25-29). Finally, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, taught that the Judgment will not be based on how we treat the powerful and privileged, but by how we treat “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40, 45). The poor, the sick, and yes, even those in prison.