There’s plenty of negative reaction to Colin Kaepernick’s decision to no longer stand for the National Anthem. One 49ers fan posted a video of him burning a Kaepernick jersey while listening to the National Anthem (a very clever protest, if you ask me). Others have criticized him for complaining about oppression even though he makes $128M. James Woods accused the NFL of having a double standard because of their decision to not punish Kaepernick, whilst telling the Dallas Cowboys their “arm in arm” helmet decal was a “no go.” These are all valid criticisms, but there’s more to the Kaepernick protest.
AP speculated Kaepernick hadn’t been paying attention to racial issues before 2013, and he’s probably right. But the issue may have to do more with San Francisco Police’s poor relationship with minority communities, than policing as a whole. There have been several high-profile police-involved killings in the last six months, including the December 2015 shooting of Mario Woods. Woods was a slashing suspect who police shot shot 20 times (video is NSFW) while he was standing against a wall. Police Chief Greg Suhr ended up resigning in May after an officer shot a woman to death because she was in a stolen car. There’s no evidence officers were ever in danger, and all the police said was she wasn’t listening to orders. The woman shouldn’t have lost her life, and police probably should have been able to take Woods into custody without the confrontation ending in gunfire.
It wasn’t just these two situations which caused strains between police and the community. SFPD had a racist text scandal, which came to light after a cop’s rape arrest. Here’s what San Francisco Chronicle reported back in April:
The messages are loaded with slurs and ugly stereotypes, and include one from an officer responding to a photo of a blackened Thanksgiving turkey. “Is that a Ferguson turkey?” the officer asks, referring to the city in Missouri that saw widespread protests after police fatally shot an unarmed African American man in 2014. ..
Some of the messages, which include derogatory and at times threatening statements toward black, Latino, Indian, transgender and gay people, were released by Public Defender Jeff Adachi on Tuesday, when he announced that his office was reviewing more than 200 cases that the officers’ bias may have tainted and may need to be dismissed…
The bigoted text messages were the second set to emerge from the police force. Last year, texts allegedly exchanged among 14 officers in 2012 were made public through federal court filings. The earlier batch was discovered by authorities looking into allegations that plainclothes San Francisco officers divided up money found during searches of drug dealers.
It’s completely possible these incidents tainted Kaepernick’s views of police and the nation. It’s possible he became disillusioned by everything he’s seen and decided it’s time to start protesting. It doesn’t mean his decision to not stand for the National Anthem is the right form of protest. New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz has some rather thoughtful criticism of Kaepernick’s decision (via USA Today):
“I think, personally, the flag is the flag. Regardless of how you feel about the things that are going on in America today and the things that are going on across the world with gun violence and things like that. You’ve got to respect the flag and stand up with your teammates. It’s bigger than just you, in my opinion. I think you go up there. You’re with your team, and you pledge your allegiance to the flag and the national anthem as a team, and then you go about your business, whatever your beliefs are. Colin is his own man. He decided to sit down and sit out and that’s his prerogative. But from a personal standpoint, I think you have to stand out there with your team and understand that this is a game and understand that what’s going on in the country.”
Cruz has a point, as do all the others calling Kaepernick’s decision, “disrespectful.” At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with Kaepernick saying he won’t stand for the National Anthem. He’s covered by the First Amendment, meaning no government entity should try to force him to stand up. The 49ers can choose to fine or suspend him, because they are a private entity, but I don’t think they should because it only makes the situation an even bigger deal. This reminds me a lot of Tim Thomas’ decision to not attend the White House in 2012 because of his criticism over the federal government. It’s within Thomas’ right to do it, but I don’t think it’s the right way to go about it. Thomas wasn’t punished by either the NHL or the Bruins, and Kaepernick shouldn’t be either. He probably should have considered a different form of protest, but he didn’t do anything “legally wrong.” The court of public opinion will be (already is) weighing in, which will ultimately be the judge.