Ever since Donald Trump decided to reignite the issue that was originally started when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick choose not to stand during the national anthem in protest of police brutality, we’ve been told that millions of Americans are disgusted by his and others’ “disrespect” for the flag, our soldiers, and first responders.
These people are quite fond, like Trump himself and his current spokeshills, of stating that this has “nothing to do with race”—even though that’s exactly and precisely what it’s about: race and the lack of equal justice.
Just as a quick refresher, these are the day-by-day events from when Trump first spoke up about the anthem to the immediate reactions and responses over the next few days.
- Trump attends a rally in Alabama for senatorial candidate Luther Strange and states that NFL owners should fire any “son of a bitch” that disrespects the flag by kneeling, even though the third verse of the national anthem is decidedly pro-slavery and racist. He complains about penalties for hard hits, saying it has “ruined the game” even though on the same day autopsy information reveals that former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez, who had committed murder and suicide, was suffering from severe brain damage due to CTE.
- Colin Kaepernick’s mom responds to Trump: “Guess that makes me a proud bitch.”
- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell slaps down Trump’s statements, saying the NFL is at their best when they “build a sense of unity.”
- Trump doubles down, claiming “athletes given the privilege to earn $Millions shouldn’t be allowed to protest. Tell them to stand.” Then he starts a Twitter fight with Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors because he said he wasn’t sure he wanted to visit the White House, so Trump disinvites him. Strangely, he didn’t say anything when his pal Tom Brady skipped his team’s visit to the Obama White House. Nor did he say anything whentwo dozen members of the Patriots didn’t visit the White House this year.
- The Warriors respond by canceling their White House visit entirely; the mayor of DC then invites them to visit him instead of Trump. Lebron James chimes in calling Trump a “bum.” NBA union head Chris Paul says Trump doesn’t have the manhood to call someone an SOB to their face.
- Dozens of players drop to their knee during the anthem during Sunday’s games; others including coaches and owners lock arms in solidarity with each other in protest of Trump’s comments. The Pittsburgh Steelers stay in the locker room during the anthem, except for one player who is a former Army ranger. Terry Bradshaw lights up Trump on Fox Sports, saying, “He doesn’t understand what freedom means.”NBA champion Warriors coach Steve Kerr says, “You know what else is disrespectful to our flag? Racism.”Kobe Bryant says “Trump divides America.”
- Trump tweets about former NFL player Pat Tillman dying for the flag, but he was a liberal who was against the Iraq war and was killed by friendly fire.This is his 16th tweet about the NFL protests since Friday, yet he hasn’t had tweeted about Puerto Rico, which has 3.4 million people in the middle of ahumanitarian crisis without electricity, water, or food after being hit by Hurricane Maria.
- Trump praises NASCAR for “respecting the flag” after their owners threaten to fire drivers who protest, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. defies the threat and supports kneeling NFL players. (One wonders what they would do if people knelt during the playing of Dixie for the traitorous Confederate flag.)
- Rabid Trump fans argue that Baltimore Ravens owner Shahid Khan should be deported because he locked arms with his players, even though he’s been an American citizen since 1991.
- Sarah Huckabee Sanders claims Trump’s “son of a bitch” statements are “always appropriate” and that it had “nothing to do with race,” even though the protests are mostly by African Americans against police brutality and racism. She says that if the issue is police brutality they should “protest the officers that are protecting them, not the flag.” CNN panelists call it “alarming and appalling.” (Yep, you betcha.)
- Trump finally tweets about Puerto Rico after Huckabee Sanders is asked why he’s posted over a dozen times about the NFL and football players, but not the impact of Hurricane Maria.
- Michigan Trump fan Brian Pennebecker, who has planned a counter-protest andfan boycott of the kneelers during a Detroit Lions game, happens to also be a documented David Duke supporter.
- Brockton, Massachusetts, parks and recreation commissioner Steve Pina posts criticism of the kneelers on his Facebook page: “Turds, your dumbass isn’t paid to think about politics,” Pina wrote. “Dance monkey dance.”
- Cecil Township, Pennsylvania, volunteer fire department chief Paul Smith called Pittsburgh Steelers coach a “No Good N*gger” for his team not taking the field during the anthem.
- Trump privately admits to waging a “white working-class culture war.” He claims Obama and Democrats “foisted” it upon him. (Oh really? Do tell! Almost none of us had noticed. Okay, yeah, everyone noticed.)
- Trump “spiritual advisor” and Dallas, Texas, pastor Robert Jeffries says protesting NFL players “ought to be thanking God that they live in a country where they’re not only free to earn millions of dollars every year, but they’re also free from the worry of being shot in the head for taking a knee like they would be if they were in North Korea.” (Really, man?) He also says Trump is “no racist.” (Okay, sure, he just plays one whenever the cameras and microphones are on him just to fool the rubes.)
- CNN holds a town hall event on the anthem controversy featuring Spike Lee and Green Beret Nate Boyd, who is a Kaepernick fan that wrote him a letter when he remained sitting. Following correspondence between Boyd and Kaepernick, he and teammate Eric Reid decided to take a knee to show respect, and to physically take a “half mast” position as a sign of distress and reverence.
- An Arkansas firefighter loses his job for saying anthem protestors should be “shot in the head.”
- Despite claiming he isn’t preoccupied with the NFL, Trump called Cowboys owner Jerry Jones four times to discuss “anthem stuff.” He also says the “owners are afraid of their players, it’s disgraceful.” (Because what, they should be keeping their players in dungeons between games so they show the proper “respect”?)
- Trumpsters claim Obama is being paid to stage a rebellion with the NFL anthem protests. “We didn’t have this kind of racial hatred before Obama. I’ve never seen this kind of racial hatred in my life—never. He poisoned our society and he did it deliberately to start a civil war. He’s just a paid thug. We need to know who he works for, but he’s a thug.”
As I mention in the first item above, we need to recall that the anthem itself is far from having “nothing to do with race” because there was bothslavery and racism built into it from the beginning, since lyricist Francis Scott Key strongly supported both.
To understand the full “Star-Spangled Banner” story, you have to understand the author. Key was an aristocrat and city prosecutor in Washington, D.C. He was, like most enlightened men at the time, notagainst slavery; he just thought that since blacks were mentally inferior, masters should treat them with more Christian kindness. He supported sending free blacks (not slaves) back to Africa and, with a few exceptions, was about as pro-slavery, anti-black and anti-abolitionistas you could get at the time.
Of particular note was Key’s opposition to the idea of the Colonial Marines. The Marines were a battalion of runaway slaves who joined with the British Royal Army in exchange for their freedom. The Marines were not only a terrifying example of what slaves would do if given the chance, but also a repudiation of the white superiority that men like Key were so invested in.
All of these ideas and concepts came together around Aug. 24, 1815, at the Battle of Bladensburg, where Key, who was serving as a lieutenant at the time, ran into a battalion of Colonial Marines. His troops were taken to the woodshed by the very black folks he disdained, and he fled back to his home in Georgetown to lick his wounds. The British troops, emboldened by their victory in Bladensburg, then marched into Washington, D.C., burning the Library of Congress, the Capitol Building and the White House. You can imagine that Key was very much in his feelings seeing black soldiers trampling on the city he so desperately loved.
Let me suggest that the real reason people are angry about the protests may actually be the same as Francis Scott Key’s reasons — former runaway slaves joined the British Army against the country of their former slave masters and were instrumental in the British taking over Washington and burning the White House to the ground. That right there is the deep rooted fear that some of these people hold, as did — rightfully — Key, and has frankly led to many of the past and current police and justice practices we’ve seen ever since.
“These angry black ex-slaves need to be kept under control.”
Key specifically expressed his feeling about these former slaves who were fighting on the side of Britain in the third verse of the anthem.
And where is that band who so vauntinglyswore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
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.
Additionally, when Colin Kaepernick was first asked about his not standing for the anthem, he explained that he wasn’t “disrespecting the flag” or “attacking the troops.” He was opposing police brutality and injustice. This is what he first said about it last August:
Kaepernick: There’s a lot of things that need to change. One specifically is police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. Cops are getting paid leave for killing someone, that’s not right, that’s not right by anyones standards.
I have great respect for the men and women who have fought for this country, I have friends, I have family who have fought for this country and they fight for freedom, and for the people, they fight for liberty and justice for everyone. And that’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up as far as giving liberty and freedom to everybody.
It’s something that’s not happening.
I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen certain circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. It’s not right.
There have been situations where I’ve been ill treated, yes. But this stand wasn’t for me, and wasn’t because I feel like I’m being put down. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people who don’t have a voice. That don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard and effect change.
It’s also relevant to note the thinking of Kaepernick’s teammate Eric Reid, who initially joined him when he was originally simply sitting through the anthem—without being noticed—for several weeks at first.
A few weeks later, during preseason, my teammate Colin Kaepernick chose to sit on the bench during the national anthem to protest police brutality. To be honest, I didn’t notice at the time, and neither did the news media. It wasn’t until after our third preseason game on Aug. 26, 2016, that his protest gained national attention, and the backlash against him began.
That’s when my faith moved me to take action. I looked to James 2:17, which states, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” I knew I needed to stand up for what is right.
I approached Colin the Saturday before our next game to discuss how I could get involved with the cause but also how we could make a more powerful and positive impact on the social justice movement. We spoke at length about many of the issues that face our community, including systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system. We also discussed how we could use our platform, provided to us by being professional athletes in the N.F.L., to speak for those who are voiceless.
After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former N.F.L. player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.
As Eric describes it, “taking a knee” in football is a sign of respect, discipline, honor, and humility, so quite clearly the “disrespecting the soldiers” argument is a completely bogus, vicious lie (especially since taking a knee was Nate Boyer’s idea, and he’s a former Green Beret). It’s a lie on par with the argument that the anthem and protests have “nothing to do with racism.”
Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid are talking not just about what police have done, but how many people find their actions—no matter how egregious—perfectly acceptable depending on who they do it to, even when they’re children.
There was no indictment for the killing of Tamir Rice, even though that officer had been deemed “unfit for duty” in his previous police job.The officer who killed Eric Garner wasn’t indicted even though themedical examiner ruled it a homicideand he had numerous previouscomplaints of abuse and disciplinary action. There was no indictment for the officers who opened fire on John Crawford, or the 911 caller who falsely claimed he was aiming a loaded gun at customers in a Walmart in Ohio—which is an open carry state— when he was really just playing with a toy pellet gun he picked up off the shelves. The officer who killed Michael Brown had previously been fired from a department that was completely disbanded due to blatant racism. There was no indictment for the officers who shot Darren Hunt in the back as he ran for his life because he was holding a decorative wooden sword they assumed was real. The trial for the officer who shot Walter Scott in the back, manipulated evidence on the scene to support his story, then lied on his police report was declared a mistrial. There have been two mistrials so far for the officer who shot Sam Dubose in the face and captured the grisly incident on his bodycam. The trial of two New Mexico officers who killed homeless camper James Boyd was also declared a mistrial. The first three cases against the officers whobroke Freddie Grey’s neck collapsed and all subsequent cases were dropped.
Yet when a pretty, white Australian woman named Justine Damon was shot by a Minnesota police officer, the embarrassment and outrage was so great the police chief resigned in disgrace. See how that works when someone takes responsibility for something?
Sometimes the bigger problem isn’t the officer who fires: it’s the fellow officer who will cover up for him, like the three Chicago officers who werecharged with conspiracy and obstruction after destroying evidence and ignoring witnesses in the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. More often fellow officers don’t report or stand up against misconduct, orelse they risk being labeled a “rat” as former Baltimore Police Officer Joe Crystal was. It’s not just the occasional “bad apple.” It’s also the rest of the bowl, and how they fail to throw the bad apple out.
This nation seems unable or unwilling to either provide equal justice for black victims of crime, maintaining a failure to “clear” the homicides of black people by an additional 16 percent over others. This is particularly true when the homicides are perpetrated by police and no one seems able to bring sworn officers down from their pedestal to pay for their crimes. Other officers won’t make them. Prosecutors, grand juries, and judges won’t make them. So why exactly should they stop doing it? Why should they even question it? Why wouldn’t they attack athletes who try to bring it up with a peaceful protest, claiming they should “do that on their own time”? But when they do that and lock arms with Black Lives Matter, these same people call them “terrorists.”
I’ve talked personally with local police about cases such as these, and what they tell me is they are “isolated incidents” that have been hyped by the media. But are they?
What hasn’t truly been addressed is just how bad is the problem that Kaepernick is bringing up. Is it really just a few isolated incidents that the media has chosen to blow up, or is it something much worse?
Research on police killings in 2015 and 2016 done by the Guardianusing open source news reports shows the chance of being killed by police per million citizens is 10.13 for Native Americans, 6.66 for African Americans, 3.23 for Latinos, 2.9 for Caucasians, and 1.17 for Asians. This means Native Americans are five times more likely to be killed by police, and African Americans more than twice as likely to be killed.
The Guardian further noted that the risk and danger specifically to young black men is significantly higher than their Caucasiancounter parts.
Black males aged 15-34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by law enforcement officers last year, according to data collected for The Counted, an effort by the Guardian to record every such death. They were also killed at four times the rate of young white men.
Racial disparities persisted in 2016 even as the total number of deaths caused by police fell slightly. In all, 1,091 deaths were recorded for 2016, compared with 1,146 logged in 2015. Several 2015 deaths only came to light last year, suggesting the 2016 number may yet rise.
The total is again more than twice the FBI’s annual number of “justifiable homicides” by police, counted in recent years under a voluntary system allowing police to opt out of submitting details of fatal incidents. Plans to improve the government records have been thrown into doubt by the election of Trump, who campaigned as a “law and order” conservative.
And that still isn’t everything. More recent and thorough data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics under Loretta Lynch combined official data with news-based estimates like the Guardian’s, and found that the true figure isn’t 1,091 arrest-related deaths: it’s more like 1,900.
Between June 1, 2015, and March 31, 2016, media reviews identified 1,348 potential arrest-related deaths. During this period, the number of deaths consistently ranged from 87 to 156 arrest-related deaths per month, with an average of 135 deaths per month. To confirm and collect more information about the 379 deaths identified through open sources from June to August 2015, BJS conducted a survey of law enforcement agencies and ME/C offices.
The survey findings identified 425 arrest-related deaths during this 3-month period—12% more than the number of deaths identified through the open source review. Extrapolated to a full calendar year, an estimated 1,900 arrest-related deaths occurred in 2015. Nearly two-third (64%) of the deaths that occurred from June to August 2015 were homicides, about a fifth (18%) were suicides, and another tenth (11%) were accidents.
This is the most accurate current estimate to date, with 1,900 police-generated deaths per year. This brings to mind the “supporting the troops” argument, because how does that rate of deaths compare to the troops we’ve lost during our international fight against terrorism?
With an average of 1,900 people killed annually since 2001, that would be 32,200 Americans who’ve died at the hands of police during that period. That is more than five times the combined number of soldiers (6,687) we’ve lost both in the Iraq war (4,491) and the war in Afghanistan (2,396). Even if you take the FBI’s fairly low numbers of “justifiable homicides” by police, you still end up with 7,480 people killed by police since 2001, which is still more than all the soldiers we lost.
Let’s say just for the sake of discussion we only include the 1,216 “homicides” (64 percent of the 1,900 from the BJS estimate) by police per year, excluding the accidents and suicides (which for some reason both ex-sheriffs Arpaioand Clark seemed to pile up by the hundreds) and contrast that not only with battlefield losses, but also all the people we lost on 9/11 both in New York and Washington. Adding another 2,996 deaths, that brings fatalities from al-Qaida, the Taliban, and ISIS combined to 9,683, while those killed by police homicide remain at 20,624, which is still two times greater.
There is of course the argument that police aren’t just randomly killing Americans (although in certain quarters that is precisely the argument) and that they should have the right to defend themselves and the public against those would harm them or the public. This begs the question (not to denigrate their sacrifice but simply to put it in rational context compared to the level of risk faced by others): how much danger are they subjected to in the line of duty? Well, the job of being a police officer isn’t even among the top 10 most dangerous jobs in America, with an average of 19 fatalities per 100,000 officers. That rate lags behind logging workers (116 fatalities per 100,000), commercial fishermen (91 fatalities per 100,000), aircraft pilots and flight engineers (71 per 100,000), and farmers and ranchers (41 per 100,000). The total number of police fatalities averages around 130 deaths per year, placing them in third place in total numbers.
However, the majority of police fatalities are from accidents and other events, not felonious assaults or homicide by the public, which is closer to 40-50 deaths per year or a rate of 5.33 fatalities per 100,000. That’s slightly lower than the overall U.S cities homicide rate of 5.80 per 100,000, so the average cop really isn’t in any more danger of being murdered than the average citizen.
Contrast that with the above numbers of unarmed people killed by police, based on estimates generated by the Guardian (~20% of 20,624 estimated BJS police homicides) and most of them likely did not present any genuine danger to the officers or the public (like Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, John Crawford, Sam Dubose, or Michael Brown). That brings us to about 4,124 unarmed people killed by police since 2001, while police themselves suffered an average or 40-50 homicides per year (totaling about 764) during the same time frame. That means police killed five times as many unarmed citizens than the number of their own ranks who are murdered by the legitimate “bad guys” within the public.
Most of us can understand the imperative of officer safety and the need to err on the side of caution, but a 5 to1 ratio is far more than an unreasonable margin of error: it’s downright insane, which is exactly the point. And again, according to the Guardian, those unarmed people are more than twice as likely to be black.
An analysis of public records, local news reports and Guardian reporting found that 32% of black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed, as were 25% of Hispanic and Latino people, compared with 15% of white people killed.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The BJS also reports that non-lethal uses of force, arrests, and stops and searches against African Americans are between two to three times greater, as well.
The most common reason for contact with police in 2008 was being a driver in a traffic stop (44.1%)
o Blacks drivers were stopped about the same percentage (8.8%) as White Drivers (8.4%) but are arrested during traffic stops twice (4.7%) as often as White Drivers (2.4%).
o Black drivers were searched (12.9%) about three times as often as white drivers (3.9%) and about two times as often as Hispanic drivers (5.8%) to be searched during a traffic stop.
o Black citizens encountering police received threats of force, or use of force (3.4%-4.3%) at least Three Times More Often than White citizens (1.1%-1.2%). Latinos citizens were threatened with force, or had force used on them about Twice as Often (1.6%-2.5%)
And most importantly, this increased scrutiny with searches and violence does not bring better results, as we’ve seen with minority-focused stop and frisk programs. Those illegal efforts found twice the guns and three times that drugs among white suspects than black ones, but 80 percent of the people they stopped and searched were minorities.
The likelihood a stop of an African American New Yorker yielded a weapon was half that of white New Yorkers stopped. The NYPD uncovered a weapon in one out every 49 stops of white New Yorkers. By contrast, it took the Department 71 stops of Latinos and 93 stops of African Americans to find a weapon.
The likelihood a stop of an African American New Yorker yielded contraband was one-third less than that of white New Yorkers stopped. The NYPD uncovered contraband in one out every 43 stops of white New Yorkers. By contrast, it took the Department 57 stops of Latinos and 61 stops of African Americans to find contraband.
And as studies have shown, this greater use of force isn’t justifiedby the crimes they are being accused of.
1) That racially disparate crime rate is an insufficient explanation of racially disparate use of force rates for this sample of police departments. Given that these departments range widely in size and represent urban cities, suburban counties, and transportation police in geographically diverse jurisdictions, the results are suggestive that these findings may generalize beyond the sample.
As the Guardian notes, there is some doubt that the updated preliminary arrest-related death report generated by the BJS will be fully incorporated into the BJS’s future analysis and updates. What we are already hearing is that the DOJ under Jeff Sessions will not be continue the consent decrees, which have been pretty much the one and only way to reform problematic police departments.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime critic of such actions, hasordered the department to review such agreements, throwing into question both the future of the pacts and how the federal government would approach oversight of local police departments.
“Local control and local accountability are necessary for effective local policing,” Sessions wrote in a memo, dated March 31 and made public Monday, ordering his top deputies to review the police reform agreements. “It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.”
Sessions has been a longtime critic of the pacts. The attorney general — a former federal prosecutor and U.S. senator — once calledconsent decrees “one of the most dangerous, and rarely discussed exercises of raw power” and “an end run around the democratic process.”.
There is a direct concern that the consent decree that has been signed but not yet approved by a judge for the Baltimore Police Department in the wake of Freddie Grey’s death may be in jeopardy, and the Chicago Police Department may not even reach that stage.
Such agreements must be approved by a judge. And while the Baltimore pact was signed by both sides and entered into federal court, U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar has not signed off on it, and the Justice Department on Monday sought to postpone a public hearing as part of that consent decree process.
…Sessions had been noncommittal about the future of a potential agreement with Chicago. Speaking to reporters in February, he also criticized the Chicago and Ferguson reports the Justice Department produced, saying that he had not read them but had seen summariesand viewed them as “pretty anecdotal and not so scientifically based.”
Police reform is a legitimate and serious issue that deserves respect and some serious effort to address. The job of rebuilding broken, jobless, hopeless communities—black, brown and white—deserves more than a helpless shrug. That certainly can’t happen if our police services remain this broken and dysfunctional.
So far, the Trump administration seems more interested in manufacturing a fake issue about “patriotism” and the “the troops” than recognizing the pain that people are going through in these communities, let alone trying to address and correct it. Trump has admitted he deliberately hyped this issue for keep his base engaged, wrongly painting athletes and people of conscience as “unpatriotic and ungrateful,” while dismantling what few reforms there are then personally calling out for even more police brutality.
“When you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough, I said, please don’t be too nice,” Trump said during a speech at Suffolk County Community College. “Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over, like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay?”
He did that just to get a rise out of some people, to get a chuckle and cheer from his base, and to “trigger liberals” in outrage. All of that is working exactly as he hoped. Just like his “both sides” dance energized his base and sent the media into face plant on the fainting couch. This is a game to him. For him, this is about the ratings numbers, not about the welfare of the people or the nation.
America has a lot of work to do. We need to come to grips with the third verse of the anthem and what that means. We need to come to grips with the relationship between our modern police and the slave patrols that were in place even before the Revolution. And we need to come to grips with the fact that many of these issues may have continued because of the for-profit prison industry and the clause in the 13th Amendment which supposedly banned slavery and indentured servitude—except for the duly convicted.
Trump will be no help with that at all. He’s a willing and eager enemy combatant against equality and justice reform—and he likes it that way.