Fighting for Whose Freedom: Racism, Police Unions, Veterans, and Colin Kaepernick
Jerri-Lynn here. NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the playing of the national anthem last Friday has sparked widespread discussion of race and racism. His decision is just the latest in a long tradition of black professional athletes taking political stands, as Kim Brown, TRNN reporter, notes below in her interview with Davey D– Hip-Hop historian, journalist, deejay, and community activist.
Kaepernick has subsequently further articulated his reasons for his failure to stand and has also criticised both presidential candidates.
Having grown up in a household where professional athletes were revered (especially those who wore a New York Yankee uniform), I’ve not surprisingly rebelled against looking to athletes as role models– whether political or otherwise.
But in this case, I’ll take my heroes where I can find them. As the interview discusses, the public acts and statements of such athletes can certainly have a wider impact when they either are accompanied by, or spark, further activist activity. So at this point, it’s worth recapping some of that history– particularly with race and racism being such prominent issues in the presidential campaign.
Davey D is a Hip-Hop historian, journalist, deejay and community activist. Active on the Hip Hop scene since 1977, as well as in community organizing, Davey D maintains a Web site, Davey D’s Hip-Hop Corner (www.daveyd.com), and is one of the hosts of Hard Knock Radio, a “drive-time talk show for the Hip-Hop generation” on KPFA in San Francisco as well as other Pacifica stations. Originally published at The Real News Network.
KIM BROWN, TRNN REPORTER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had the entire internet in flames over the weekend after he opted not to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner Friday night during a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. After the game, Kaepernick told reporters that he won’t “stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color”. Those are his words. He doubled down on this sentiment at Niners practice on Sunday.
COLIN KAEPERNICK, QUARTERBACK, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: The fact that it has blown up like this I think is a good thing. You know, it brings awareness. Everybody knows what’s going on, and this sheds more light on it. Now I think people are really talking about it, having conversations about how to make change, what’s really going on in this country, and we can move forward.
I think it’s something that can unify this team. It’s something that can unify this country, you know, if we have these real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people. If we have these conversations, there’s a better understanding where both sides are coming from. And if we reach common ground and can understand what everybody’s going through, we can really effect change and make sure that everybody’s treated equally and has the same freedom.
BROWN: Colin’s silent sit-down protest opened floodgates on several issues, including racial patriotism, veterans, American history, black athletes in protest, and the consequences thereof.
Today we’re joined by Davey D. He is the host of Hard Knock Radio. Davey is also a journalist and a hip-hop historian. He joins us today from the Bay in California.
Davey, thank you so much for your time.
DAVEY D: Thank you for having me on.
BROWN: Davey, we actually have a little bit of breaking news here regarding this Colin Kaepernick incident, because the San Francisco Police Officers Association actually has written and sent a letter to Jed York, who is the San Francisco 49ers owner, and to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. This has been obtained by TMZ Sports. They say that “While we certainly acknowledge Mr. Kaepernick’s First Amendment rights to remain seated during the national anthem, as inappropriate as that may be, we will not stand by while he attacks police officers in this country with such statements as, ‘people are on paid leave while people of color are killed’”. They go on to call him naive. They say he lacks “sensitivity towards police officers”. Davey, you’ve covered the Bay, you’ve covered police brutality and the like for some time now. Let’s get your initial reaction to what the police officers association has to say to Colin Kaepernick.
DAVEY D: The San Francisco Police Officers Association is full of crap. And it’s a laughable letter, but sadly it’s predictable as to what they do. This is the same organization that has its members sending racist text messages amongst each other on two different occasions, with none of them being fired. And the text messages are horrific. It got so bad that they actually talked about a black police officer, and the Black Police Officers Association had to send out a letter, and that particular officer has been, as they say, isolated in the force. This is the same police officers union that had 58 cases thrown out because of corruption and lying and the police reports and contaminating of the labs. We can go on and on.
In terms of the people that have been shot and killed, from Alex Nieto to the sister that was just recently shot up in Hunters Point to Mario Woods, all those police officers have been on paid leave. So there was no falsehood in what Kaepernick was stating, even though there’s been massive protests around those killings, including several during the Super Bowl when it came to the Bay Area.
So there’s been a lot of outrage with San Francisco police. The outrage led to a 17-day hunger strike by a number of activists in San Francisco, dubbed the “Frisco Five”. It led to the marrying of various community groups. So the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition very deliberately linked arms, linked hands, and share resources with the Latino organizations who are finding that the police have been killing and shooting folks in the mission with impunity.
And I’ll just close by saying that with regards to SFPD, the outrage in San Francisco and the Bay Area in general led to the stepping down of its former police chief Greg Suhr. That’s how outrageous it’s been. So this police union, I think they live for the days to make inflammatory statements. I think they live for the day to be in the spotlight for saying something that is so outlandish. And this letter to Jed York is just one of them, one of many examples of them doing that.
BROWN: And, Davey, the issue of Kaepernick somehow disrespecting the veterans and America at large by not standing for the national anthem has evoked a lot of emotion online. I want to cut to some footage of people burning Colin Kaepernick Jerseys, if we could.
(Video plays in broadcast.)
UNIDENTIFIED: This jersey was the worst $50 investment I have ever had. You, Mr. Kaepernick, if you don’t love our country, get the [censored] out of it, OK? So here’s your jersey.
BROWN: Yeah. With people telling Colin Kaepernick that if he doesn’t love America, then he basically should leave America, I mean, sort of the irony of saying that because he’s not standing up for what others have supposedly fought for, that he’s somehow disrespecting, when in actuality he’s in full ownership of all of his constitutional rights. And there’s been an interesting debate also online when we talk about veterans and the so-called disrespect of veterans. I’ve seen many black veterans, veterans of color online saying when they returned back home from their mission or from being deployed that they did not feel respected or that they received respect. What are your thoughts about this particular aspect of what this discussion has revealed?
DAVEY D: Well, what you have is a continuation and a desire by many people who have a disdain for black people and people of color in general to police their actions, their activities, and police their political points of view.
Let’s start off with the erroneous notion about Kaepernick having to leave this country if he doesn’t like it. There’s a difference between standing up against oppression where the flag symbolizes that and you having a right to that freedom of speech. That happens all the time. You have people that have used the flags in various ways, from wearing it as bathing suits to people changing the colors of the flag and putting their team’s insignia on there, to people who have sat down during the anthem. If we want to be fair about it, you’re not supposed to desecrate the flag. Any sort of desecration is a sign of disrespect. But you can go to a 49er game and see the 49er emblem emblazed on the flag. So are we disrespecting the flag then? Or are we just picking and choosing what we want to be mad about?
The second thing is is that the argument about we were fighting for your freedom. Let’s go through the wars. I’ve asked a number of veterans, which war were you fighting for my freedom with? Vietnam War? The Gulf War? The Spanish-American War? The war in Grenada? Libya? ‘Cause a lot of these wars weren’t for fighting for freedom. It was expansion of American Empire. And there had been vigorous protests, and many of these wars with people holding up the flag and saying, not in our name. So I question when people make these statements about, oh, we’re fighting for your rights. You’re not fighting for anybody’s rights. You just decided to join the army. Many people did so cause they had no choice. They needed some money. They thought this would be a career. And many were gambling on the fact that they might not have to go to war. Now that many people have gone to war, we’ve seen them coming back after doing four and five tours of duty. We’ve seen many people in the military protest that sort of extended stay. We’ve seen many people be dissatisfied. And we also see many so-called patriots not really back up their rhetoric in terms of the love they express for the Armed Forces, because, if you recall, there had to be protests, had to be petitions, there had to be people who were actually against the war fighting to make sure veterans have their benefits when they return home, that they’re not homeless in these streets, including many in the City of San Francisco, and third, that they would even have the protective gear. I haven’t forgotten that many of us had to write letters and even donate money to make sure that some of these folks had armored gear so they wouldn’t get shot, or at least if they were shot they wasn’t hurt. So are we talking about somebody who sat down? Are we talking about folks who are backing up their rhetoric with actual actions? Many of these folks who say they love America and love the flag probably did no activism to make sure that our veterans aren’t homeless when they return, that the VA hospitals are open for them.
We can go on and on about the disparaging treatment that many have gotten.
And then, lastly, I think you talked about many black veterans coming home and being mistreated. That’s historic. This goes all the way back to the early days in 1812 when we had the writing of the “Star-Spangled Banner”. There were black soldiers that fought in that war and afterwards they found that the repression came down on them even harder. Why? Because white people didn’t trust black people. We saw it after World War I, we saw it after World War II with massive amounts of lynching, many white people wanting to put black people back in their place because once they returned from these wars, they wanted the freedoms that they saw in other lands and they demanded that they would have that sort of equal treatment here, and that was vigorously resisted. And of course we found that there are many veterans who were mistreated by the police when they get home. The first one that comes to mind is the 70-year-old gentleman in New York–I’m going to remember his name–I forget it–his name is Kenneth something. But he was shot.
BROWN: Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. in White Plains, New York.
DAVEY D: That’s right. In New York. That’s right. Kenneth Chamberlain, a vet who was shot and killed by police. And we’ve seen that sort of mistreatment happen on a number of occasions. So kill the noise is what I would say to all that.
BROWN: Davey, so let me ask you this. So how does Colin Kaepernick fit in this succession of black athletes, black professional athletes, who have taken a political stand, you know, going back to Paul Robeson, coming up to Lebron James wearing the T-shirts “I can’t breathe”, up to the WNBA protests supporting Black Lives Matter? Even Michael Jordan, notoriously reticent to make a political stand or statement in any way, even he put up $1 million towards the NAACP legal Defense fund and $1 million towards an organization that examines police and community relations. Where does Colin fit in all of this?
DAVEY D: Well, I think we have to kind of contextualize this. Some of the protests that you mention have been very well thought out. There were people that trained themselves. They informed themselves. They were connected to organizations. And then they took a stand. Others found themselves in the middle of a firestorm, and they had a community that could rally around them. You know, Muhammad Ali may be one, but again, he was connected to a larger body of people and he had athletes that came to his aid.
Colin Kaepernick I think did what many people do. He sat down during the singing of the national anthem. That’s not the first time he’s done it. It’s not the first time many of us have done it. This time, in the tradition of trying to police bodies–remember, they did the this with Gabby Douglas during the Olympics. They didn’t do it during Michael Phelps’ laughing. And then they came back and wanted to go, well, why is Colin Kaepernick sitting? And instead of avoiding the question, Colin stepped up, and he gave a pretty frank answer: it’s in protest to the way that people are treated. This is not the first time Colin has spoken out on issues like this, so many people are going, why now? He’s always been like that. He’s a part of an organization. He’s a Kappa Alpha Psi member. They’ve been known for their community work. So he’s not unaware. He just doesn’t make a big to-do about it. I think he sat down quietly and just didn’t say anything. And people wanted to ask him about it. He gave an answer. And now we have a firestorm.
But the good thing about Kaepernick is that he hasn’t backed away from that firestorm. And he said, hey, I’m willing to go through it and I’m willing to deal with it. And I think that’s appropriate and that’s good for him. He has the money, so there’s no way that you can economically penalize him. He has the gumption, and he has the understanding of what’s going on and he has access to getting more understanding. So I give him props for that.
BROWN: And lastly, Davey, I mean, you’re out in the Bay. I know you’re an Oakland Raiders fan, so you may not pay too much attention to what the 49ers are doing. But what is the reaction? What is the temperature out there in the Bay Area about what Colin Kaepernick has done and what he has said? I mean, this just happened Friday, and it’s Monday now, and this has really dominated the weekend news cycle, even coming into this week. So what are people in the Bay Area saying about Colin Kaepernick today?
DAVEY D: Well, when we were at the Raiders game on Saturday, everybody in my section sat down during the national anthem. People like what he had to do. And you’ve had diehard Raider fans like myself saying, you know what? I’m going to have to like Kaepernick for this. I think there’s a lot of respect for what he did. I mean, there are some naysayers, there are some people that are all caught up in their emotions because they feel that the flag is untouchable and America’s policies should stand sacred and nobody should challenge them.
You have others that I feel have been jealous. They’re like, well, where is Colin Kaepernick? What has he done for the community? He doesn’t need to do anything for the community. A good organizer takes the moment and he flips it to their advantage. And Colin started the conversation. And it’s up to the rest of us who organize to run with it and contextualize it and give people information about the history of the “Star-Spangled Banner”, our war policies, and who exactly is calling for Colin to leave this country and who isn’t.
And I’ll close by saying that if people were sitting on the fence with Colin prior to this, this letter from the San Francisco Police Officers Association will definitely have people rally behind him, because now they’re seeing the type of enemy that he’s made. And that’s a very scurrilous enemy to have. So we’re behind Colin Kaepernick, at least the people that I’m around. Nobody is thumbs-down to him on this.
BROWN: Davey D. Davey is the host of Hard Knock Radio. He’s also a journalist and a hip-hop historian. You can follow him on Twitter at Mr. Davey D.
Davey, we appreciate your time and your expertise today. Thank you.
DAVEY D: Thank you. Have a good one.
BROWN: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.