What a Lot of Americans Don't Understand about the NFL "Kneeling" Protest

On a Sunday afternoon last fall, some friends and family gathered around our television to watch my beleaguered Washington Redskins. During the playing of the National Anthem a few of the players took a knee. As you can imagine, a discussion ensued.

I find myself at the intersection of a rather interesting Venn diagram. I am a combat veteran of Operation Desert Storm. I am a career Naval officer. I am a voting Republican. I grew up in Alabama. And, I am a black man.

I am also a contrarian- meaning that I avoid jumping on bandwagons. If there is an argument “for” something, I try to remain open to hearing the opposing points of view. Life has taught me to look both ways before crossing any street or climbing onto any platform. This approach also has the added value of keeping at bay bad surprises.

Back to the football game: One of my guests complained aloud, ”I am so sick of these overpaid jerks dishonoring our military.” In most other settings I would have let the comment pass without reaction or response. However, we were in my house, watching my television, so I decided to let my contrarian alter ego take the helm.

“Can I see a show of hands of everyone who has served in the US Military?” I
asked. Not surprisingly, I was the only person holding up their hand. I was also the
only black person in the room, but not the only Republican.

“I won’t speak for all military veterans, but I will speak for myself. While I am
not comfortable with any protest involving the National Anthem, I am comfortable
with their right to protest. As a matter of fact, I’ve taken the oath to defend that right
eight times and actually gone to war to defend that right.”

Before this goes any further, let’s look at some facts: In 2017 police shot and killed
987 people. According to data from the Washington Post, nearly 40%, 402, were
black or Hispanic. Data on another 128 deaths remains unconfirmed. These
statistics create a remarkable picture when one considers that blacks and Hispanics
only comprise 12.1% and 17% of the US population, respectively.

“Can’t they find another way?” someone asked.

“Sure, they could,” I responded. I went on to explain why they don’t have to
find alternative methods.

Protest in itself is designed to make people uncomfortable. Protest is designed to
shake people out of their comfort zones drawing attention to something that might
otherwise go unnoticed – like the issue of the disproportionate use of deadly force
by police against poor people and people of color. The kneeling form of protest
dovetails perfectly with Black Lives Matter, the preeminent group leading the
charge against racial injustice at the hands of Law Enforcement.

One of the criticisms often heard from my fellow conservatives, friends and family,
about Black Lives Matter is that they are racist in their actions. Further, their very
name implies racist overtones. “All lives matter,” is a retort often used by those
countering the group. Any rational and fair person would be an idiot not to agree
with that sentiment. Accordingly, any rational or fair person looking at the statistics
presented previously would also be hard pressed not to conclude a deadly animus
exists between American Law Enforcement and persons of color.

Last Friday President Trump issued a challenge to players in the NFL to provide him names of people they feel have been unjustly treated by the legal system for potential pardons. Many of the news media heralded this as an olive-branch extended by the President who once called these men, “sons of bitches.” President Trump’s challenge makes the point of this article precisely; he and many of my fellow Americans just don’t get it. These players are protesting the aforementioned deaths at the hands of police. Pardoning someone who is dead does little to correct an emotional perception and a statistical reality.

One of the current criticisms of President Obama is that during his term in office he “criminalized” the police. Further, that many of his words and policies took the side of assumed criminals vs. the police facing them. From his inappropriate “Beer Summit” for his friend Dr. Louis Gates to his totally appropriate commissioning of the Justice Department’s investigation of the police in Ferguson, Missouri, the Obama administration is viewed by some conservatives as all but abandoning Law Enforcement.

On the other side of the argument, President Trump has told Law Enforcement groups, “I’m with you.” Further, he has declined to make any comment regarding questionable actions of police in events that have occurred during his tenure. In the minds of many persons of color, President Trump has signaled “open season” further driving a wedge between the police and the populace they are sworn to protect and serve.

Just last week the images of Mesa, Arizona police officers beating an unarmed black man into unconsciousness flashed across our television screens. It is important to note that police body-camera equipment showed a very different story than the images from a security camera that the involved officers did not know was present. Republican activist Ben Ferguson suggested this was not a racial incident because one of the officers involved in the incident was also a black man. For those of you reading this passage that also hold that belief, I urge you to seek out a friend, colleague, family member or acquaintance who is a person of color and discuss the fallacy of this viewpoint. And if you are without a person of color that can provide you insight into this perspective, I recommend watching Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the move Django Unchained. Addressing it here would dramatically detract from the point of this article. However, Ferguson’s attitude definitely underscores the point there are two radically different perspectives on race in our country.

The bottom-line here is that in the upcoming football season, we can expect to see further expressions of this line of protest. This is despite the President’s condemnations and the actions of the NFL owners. There are two reasons I predict these protests will continue. First and foremost, the base problem fomenting the protest has yet to be resolved. 2018 statistics thus far support this viewpoint. Secondly, every American has the right of free expression. And if you doubt that, pick up the Constitution. Our history is replete with expressions of discontent with
the status quo: the Boston Tea Party, Women’s Suffrage, and the Civil Rights Marches of the 1960’s, to name but a few. My hope is that this protest, like those listed above, will achieve genuine change.

As a father, I would like not to feel the need to counsel my children regarding encounters with police, something my friends and relatives who are white don’t worry about. As a life-long member of the Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln, I would like to see more people standing up to address this problem. As a Navy combat veteran, I am not offended or trampled on by the actions of these football players. Finally, as a career military officer, nothing offends me more than Americans trying to keep other Americans from exercising the rights I have literally fought to protect.