On Friday night, August 26, San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a stand by taking a knee.
Before a preseason game with the Green Bay Packers, as the national anthem was sung, Kaepernick sat by himself on the bench. An NFL reporter noticed, and asked Kaepernick for an explanation after the game. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” Kaepernick added, alluding to recent police shootings.
Kaepernick, the second best quarterback on his team, is now the most talked about quarterback in football. His number-seven 49ers jersey is the bestselling merchandise of any player in the league, a wearable icon of human dignity. He will appear, on one knee, on the October 3 cover of Time magazine.
At first, he was a controversial anomaly. Some said he was a disgrace to the flag and to those who died to make and keep America free. But recent police shootings of black men in Tulsa and Charlotte have led more athletes to speak up — and kneel down.
The digital age haunts us with viral videos of black bodies in the streets at the hands of police officers.
- In 2014, we saw Tamir Rice (Ohio), age 12, holding a toy gun, shot in a public park. Three months earlier, John Crawford III (Ohio), 22, holding a BB gun, shot dead in a Walmart store.
- In 2015, we all watched as police tackled Eric Garner (New York), 43, put him in a chokehold, and killed him on the streets of New York. A month later, we saw the dead body of Michael Brown (Missouri), 18, lying in the streets of Ferguson.
- This year videos surfaced from two different 2013 cases: one of Cameron Massey (Alabama), 26, shot in the back and killed as he attempted to drive away from a cop, and one of Dontrell Stephens (Florida), 22, also shot in the back, now paralyzed.
- Recently, we have been flooded with new video. We saw Charles Kinsey (Florida), 47, a black therapist, negotiating for his autistic patient next to him, lying on the ground with his arms raised up, when a cop shot him. He survived, unlike the rest.
- We watched Walter Scott (South Carolina), 50, abandon his car and run away from a cop who unloaded his clip into Scott’s back.
- Laquan McDonald (Chicago), 17 — accused of threatening cops with a knife, but proved otherwise by video — was walking down the street, away from the cops. Moments later, he was shot sixteen times, his body spiraling as he fell dead.
- Multiple police body cameras captured the chase of Paul O’Neal (Chicago), 18, through a South Shore neighborhood. O’Neal was shot in the back and killed.
- We saw Philando Castile (Minnesota), 32, leaning back in the passenger seat of a car, hand over his bloody abdomen, staring up into eternity. And we watched Jamar Clark (Minnesota), 24, loaded into an ambulance after he was tackled to the ground and shot in the head by a cop.
- Maybe most graphic of all, we watched Alton Sterling (Louisiana), 37, tackled over a car hood, held down by two officers, and shot in the chest.
- More recently, we watched Terence Crutcher (Oklahoma), 40, whose SUV broke down, approached and shot and killed by a female cop as a helicopter filmed his fall to the pavement.
- Finally, Keith Lamont Scott (North Carolina), 43, was shot dead as he walked backwards facing the cops with his arms down, gun in a visible ankle holster. The camera was not the only one watching, however. Scott was shot in front of his wife, who pled with police to de-escalate the tension.
Watching these videos, one right after another, is agonizing.
But as video cameras proliferate, these shootings seem to become more widespread, more unavoidable, and more potent markers of the racial tensions that divide us.
So Kaepernick kneels for the national anthem, and the frustrations mount. As Lecrae recently tweeted: “Take a knee . . . people riot. Take a bullet . . . people quiet.”
The sentiment has been retweeted 67,000 times.
The Other Side
There’s another side to these tragedies, depicted in the graphic 1998 murder of police officer Kyle Dinkheller (Georgia), 22, killed by a white army veteran, Andrew Brannan, after Dinkheller pulled him over. Videos like this one are unforgettable reminders of why police are trained to never allow suspects to return to their vehicles.
More than thirty cops have been killed in 2016, including the July shootout in Dallas, in which a peaceful protest in the streets was ended by a sniper, a black military vet, who murdered five white cops: Lorne Ahrens, 48, Michael Krol, 40, Michael Smith, 55, Patrick Zamarripa, 32, and Brent Thompson, 43, whose execution was broadcast live, shot in the back in a cold-blooded ambush.
These are the videos that haunt the spouses and children of police officers, reminding them that being a police officer is a demanding and dangerous job, full of pressures and growing expectations.
In the aftermath of the killing of five officers, Dallas police chief David Brown delivered a wearied plea, “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve.” Mental health funding is too low? Give it to the cops to solve. A stray dog problem in the city? Give it to the cops. School systems failing? Give it to the cops. Seventy percent of African-American children being raised without dads? Give the problem to the cops. “That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”
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