“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects or flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field, right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired.’”
These are the words of the President of the United States of America addressing a predominately white political rally in the state of Alabama criticizing Black NFL professional football players as they sit or kneel peacefully during the playing of the National Anthem to protest racial inequality and injustice as young black men and boys are killed without just cause by law enforcement.
NFL player and former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick started this protest in 2016 to bring these conditions to the forefront to be addressed. It is believed that he has been targeted and not signed to a contract as a result of his advocacy. The president and others believe that his protest is unpatriotic and disrespectful to our flag, the national anthem, our country, veterans and our military who put their lives on the line for the survival of our country and our heritage. The president has been quoted as saying, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, You’re Fired. Find something else to do.”
Having served as a commissioned officer in the United States army and being the son of a retired non-commissioned officer who served in combat in World War II and Viet Nam, I’d like to comment on the issues presented and the manner in which our president and his supporters addressed the peaceful protesters.
Let me state unequivocally that I support Colin Kaepernick and any other citizen who believe enough in their cause that they are able to bring the matter to the attention of the public through the means of a constitutionally protected peaceful protest whether I agree with them or not. Having taken various oaths both federal and state, they all require support of the Constitution of the United States and to defend it from all enemies foreign and domestic. Our Constitution and form of government guarantee certain liberties such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press through the First Amendment.
Supreme Court Justice William Brennan is quoted as saying, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” The Supreme Court has ruled that the ability to criticize the government and government officials is central to the meaning of the First Amendment. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson stated, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
Not standing for the National Anthem or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, burning the American flag, wearing black armbands in protest; gathering in a public place and carrying torches and Nazi flags and giving the Nazi salute; marching and chanting hate slogans; wearing clothing with the words, “fuck the draft”, burning a white cross at a Ku Klux Klan rally and conducting a Nazi march through a predominately Jewish neighborhood have all been declared abhorrent but constitutionally protected freedoms under the Constitution of the United States of America.
In the United States of America there is no law requiring its citizens to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the National Anthem and there is no law punishing a citizen for not complying. Their inaction is protected by the Constitution. In this country we love principles. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of only loving a principle when we agree with it; however, when we don’t agree with the principle we can peacefully protest and have that protest protected by the Constitution of the United States of America.
So, to those who claim that the kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful or unpatriotic, let me explain that these are the principles upon which our democracy was founded. These actions are specifically protected by the Constitution. These are the principles which separate this country from North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, Syria and other totalitarian or authoritarian governments. We live in a free democracy; and, that is worth fighting and dying for.
Lastly, why would the President of the United States and leader of the free world criticize and demean the NFL players engaged in a silent, non-violent protest against racial inequality and injustice as exhibited by the systemic, unwarranted, killing of African-Americans at the hands of predominately white police officers. One included a suspect being shot in the back eleven times as he was running away from the police. Another included the killing of a twelve year-old child killed within four seconds of arrival and approaching him in a park. Another young man with a knife visible in his hand walking away from the police in a non-threatening manner was shot sixteen times, fourteen after he was already on the ground. One included five officers holding down a man accused of selling cigarettes on the street and using a choke hold prohibited by the department that killed him as he pleaded that he could not breath; and, many more.
Why are the protesters of these incidents referred to as “sons of bitches” when white supremacists, Ku Klux Klansmen and neo-Nazis are marching in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia chanting racial epithets and other hate slogans, carrying Nazi flags and torches and killing a counter-protester and they are referred to as “some are good people” by our president?
President Trump made these comments at a political rally in Alabama; not the bastion of racial tolerance. The name Alabama conjures for some of us key names and phrases such as George Wallace, “Bull” Connor, “Bloody Selma”, “Freedom Fighters”, lynchings, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
President Trump’s racial history endears him with white supremacists and gendered a presidential endorsement by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Dukes. His history includes his father, Fred Trump being arrested at a Ku Klux Klan riot in the 1920s. The Richard Nixon Justice Department sued the Trump Management Corporation twice for alleged racial discrimination by not renting apartments to Blacks. The New Jersey Casino Control Commission fined the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino $200,000 in 1992 for discriminating against Black card dealers.
John O’Donnell an author of a book about Trump stated that Trump reported to him that, “An isn’t it funny. I’ve got black accountants at Trump Castle and Trump Plaza. Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” O’Donnell reported that Trump further stated, “I think the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault because laziness is a trait in Blacks. It really is. I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.” Trump has also faced charges of reneging on commitments to hire black people. In 1996, twenty African-Americans in Indiana sued Trump for failing to honor a promise to hire minority workers for a riverboat casino on Lake Michigan.
Long before his presidential announcement where he insisted that undocumented Mexicans were “criminals” and “rapists”, Trump was a proponent of “birtherism” a racist conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was not born in this country; an attempt to delegitimize our country’s first African-American President.
Trump through personal and literary advocacy encouraged the mob anger that wrongfully imprisoned the Central Park Five, a group of Black and Latino teens accused of rape. After serving years in prison they were all exonerated when DNA evidence showed they did not commit the crime.
The campaign promise to ban all Muslims from the United States and the attack on the Khans, a Gold Star family, whose son died while serving in the Iraq War was another example of Trumps intolerance in addition to his statement that Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel could not fairly hear the class-action lawsuit against Trump because he is a Mexican.
Finally, several members of President Trump’s white house staff and Cabinet members including Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn, Steve Mnuchin and Jeff Sessions were all challenged for racially biased behavior prior to going to the White House. Most noted is the Attorney General Jeff Sessions from Alabama. The Senate refused to confirm him as a federal district judge in 1986 amid accusations that he’d made racially insensitive comments including that the only reason he had not joined the Ku Klux Klan was because its members smoked marijuana. In 2017 Civil Rights groups condemned Trumps nomination of Session as the Attorney General and white nationalists celebrated it.
There are too many more examples that plague his credibility as the President of non-white/non-Christian citizens of this country.
The attack against NFL players for peacefully protesting racial inequality and injustice by kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem is attributed to not understanding the constitution and the ramifications of living with the freedoms of a democracy. Accepting principles of a free society apply whether you like or agree with the freedom or not. Challenging our government and its leaders without retribution is the hallmark of a free society.
Historically, many facets and experiences of our lives shape our attitudes toward issues such as this. In this particular situation we must also admit that ignorance and racism definitely play a role.