Why Taking the Knee Matters

By Patrick Brogan

Media stories come and go. Many are blown out of all proportion and seem very important and then die off and are never heard of again. I hate this form of journalism. It descends into childish bickering very quickly. I generally try to stay away from these stories. Many media commentators have said the “Taking the Knee” story follows a similar pattern, others say it distracts from the ‘real news’ and ‘what’s really happening’. This story is very important, though, despite their claims and there are a number of reasons for this.

The Genesis; Colin Kaepernick

Firstly, with all the back and forth debate, it is easy to forget why NFL player Colin Kaepernick decided to sit out the American national anthem in the first place. In his own words; “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

So, is he correct in his claims? Yes, but of course the situation is more complicated than someone can go into in a brief interview, but there is certainly truth in what he is saying. This year alone, 207 black people have been murdered by police. We are only three-quarters of the way through the year. Over the years, we have seen many high-profile murders of black people by the police. Eric Garner was pinned down and choked to death even though he told police he could not breathe, prompting a national phrase to sum up the barbarity of the situation. He was suspected of selling loose cigarettes. Michael Brown’s murder incited protests in Ferguson, St. Louis that got international attention. Teenager Trayvon Martin was murdered by a neighbourhood watch member. None of these men were armed.

In fact, the number of unarmed and non-violent people murdered by police accounts for over two-thirds of the overall figure in 2014.  If we break it down state by state, the disparity becomes clearer. If you are black, you are seven times more likely to be murdered in Oklahoma than in Georgia by police. According to the US census, the black community makes up 7.8% of the overall Oklahoma population compared to 32% of Georgia’s. On top of this, and this is a huge issue in itself, 99% of those police involved in the murders did not face any prosecution. All of this during the period of a black President. So much for “change”.

White Deaths

The number of people killed by US law enforcement is disproportionately high. On all sides. The Guardian compiled data on the number of ordinary citizens killed by the authorities and it makes for some stark reading. There were more people shot to death in less than one month in the US than there was in England and Wales in 24 years. In 2013, Finnish police fired off a total of six gunshots. In the murder of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, police used 17 bullets.

More white people are murdered by police every year than black. The Washington Post also compiled its own data on police caused fatalities. From the period of January 2015 to July 2016, 1,502 people were killed by on-duty officers. Of these, 732 were white, 381 were black and 382 were of an unknown race. So, are the likes of Kaepernick right to protest over black murders as opposed to white? Well, yes because while the figures about white murders do not lie, they do not tell the entire story. It is the disproportionate number of black deaths at the hands of the police that have the black community angry, and frankly, scared.

Numbers Game

There are 160 million more white Americans than there are black. So, while the number of white people killed by fatal police shots is higher, the likelihood of it being a black person — particularly a male –, is far higher than for the white community. Nearly three times, in fact. All of these are numbers and statistics and can be hard to comprehend, but behind each one of these is a life lost, a family ruined, an all too familiar story needlessly repeated.

The National Anthem

A national anthem is like a blurb of what a country stands for. The US claims to be the home of the free. What is freedom if not a series of decisions where judgement is not cast? Especially when it comes to ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or any other qualifier. Clearly, if black males are more likely to be shot than white ones, it is not the land of the free. Certainly, when Kaepernick and others who followed are willing to make a stand (or sit, in this case) against the “leader of the free world” the case of it being the home of the brave could be argued. If this anthem is stating out in explicit terms that this is where freedom resides, well then, what better place to point out its hypocrisy then while it is playing in front of the world.

Historically, there is very good reason for all black people to be wary of this anthem. The slave history of black Americans is well documented and what they had to endure. And this anthem celebrates this. When the British reinvaded the US, as it wore, they recruited black Americans into their ranks. The third verse celebrates the death and murder of the slaves that sought their freedom at the hands of the US military;

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

This anthem, in itself, is racist. This idea that anyone protesting against the anthem is disrespecting the nation should probably look at its lyrics and meaning first. Playing a national anthem before sporting events is a political act. The NFL made this a political issue before Kaepernick or anyone else protested against it.

But He’s a Sport’s Star

So what? Is he not entitled to an opinion because of his profession? This would set a dangerous precedent. He, and the other protestors, have been described as over-paid, ungrateful, cry babies. I would argue that a sport’s star is probably best qualified to comment on American society. The NFL is the richest sporting league in the world by far, so it is a staple of American society. Also, what better stage to highlight injustice?

Crime Rate

The figures for this can be a bit dated, but the most recent ones indicate that the black community accounts for more crime than the white, even though it is a much smaller population. That said, should they not go through the legal process rather than a police officer being judge, jury and executioner? I would feel uncomfortable with one individual having that level of power.

To Sum Up

America has always had a problem with people expressing themselves, especially when it might shake up the status quo. In fairness, it is not alone in this regard. If there was a problem, wouldn’t you want somebody high-profile to speak up against it? The statistics are in this article, there is a problem. Although it is easier to tell black people that history is past and everyone is born free, this is far from true as the socio-economic problems repeat themselves in a vicious cycle.

I would never suggest for a second that one person is more important than another, especially on grounds of race, creed, sex or however else people are grouped. But, the black community in America, while things have improved in some areas, still face a hardship that most white people don’t. Police brutality is just another factor in this. Maybe Kaepernick should stand up for all the victims of police brutality, not just the black ones. The reason he takes this stance is as a black man he is directly affected by police brutality on his community. Of course all lives matter, but I don’t think what those protesting against the anthem are saying is that black people are more important, just that they are entitled to justice.


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