No matter how much the current president and his supporters want to make #TakeAKnee about “the flag,” and “the military,” it’s not about those two sacrosanct topics — it is all about the tendency of white controlled police departments to shoot first and take questions later when an African American is shot and killed.
In 2017 there have been 721 individuals shot and killed by police officers. Certainly, not all of these people have been black, and not all have been unarmed. However, there’s another layer to these numbers: justification. In several highly publicized incidents (witness Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, Walter Scott) few officers have been held accountable for their actions; Walter Slager’s guilty plea in the Walter Scott case being a notable exception. Philando Castile, was recorded in his dying moments, and yet the officer was acquitted on all counts. It appears, and appearances are important in the cases, that all an officer must do is to testify that he or she feared for her safety. Shoot first, and take questions later.
Police apologists cry “Blue Lives Matter,” and the more radical among them shout “All Lives Matter,” but then that’s the point of “Black Lives Matter;” the slogan Black Lives Should Matter Just As Much As Any Other Lives is entirely too long to fit on a T-shirt.
And #TakeAKnee is about Black Lives Matter. There’s an interesting thing about African American protests — by white lights there’s never been an appropriate way for them to protest. When a crowd is predominantly white the media describes it as a protest as they did during the Women’s March, however when the crowd is predominantly black media contributors seem to be on edge waiting for the first rock or bottle to be thrown. Some police departments, like the St. Louis PD, helpfully provide photos of the bottles they’ve collected and tweet the number of officers injured — no mention is made of the types of injuries incurred.
When the crowd is predominantly African American if they move then they must be blocking traffic, or impeding commerce. If they don’t move (such as in a sit-in) then they must be an “unauthorized” gathering. If they boycott businesses then media commentators often find it necessary to observe they “are hurting themselves.” Only recently have cable news outlets invited non-white commentators to opine on the activities of black activists. It’s encouraging to find at least a few broadcasts willing to engage commentators who do more than wag their heads and fingers at protests.
The entire idea of a protest is to gather attention, thus no one should be surprised when NFL players seek to capitalize on TV coverage of #TakeAKnee. However, the current administration appears to believe that African American players and their allies should only do this on their “own time.” Worse still is the willingness of the President to politicize and re-imagine the protests into a “counter culture” narrative. The tweeter-in-chief decided at 3:44 am on September 24th that the #TakeAKnee protests were about “flag and country.” And some of the commenters duly chimed in. This technique has a long and rather sordid history.
People who protested Jim Crow laws were derided as Un-American, or as tools of the Communists, those who would desecrate the efforts of the military to defend our freedoms in World War II. Those who protested the Vietnam War were also disparaged as “unpatriotic,” unworthy of the sacrifices made in the last great War. The racist technique of choice in contemporary times is to conflate the “anti-racists” with the “anti-military” and the “anti-flag” elements of their imaginations, and first discount and then disparage efforts to improve life in America for all its citizens.
The flag is a very convenient icon, but that’s all it is, an icon. Yes, it’s flown by those who fought in World War II, Vietnam, and in the Middle East; but it’s not the reason the veterans fought…not to defend The Flag, but to defend American values, their comrades in arms, and not least, the Constitution of the United States. Perhaps this is the time to remember that President Dwight Eisenhower had another flag flying contingent march into Little Rock, Arkansas, with about a thousand members of the 101st Airborne to put down white inspired riots that Governor Faubus refused to control. Federal marshals assisted in the integration of the University of Mississippi, and the Alabama National Guard was employed by President Kennedy to integrate the University of Alabama. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. marched to Montgomery under the protection of federalized National Guard units. [ChiTrib]
Yes, the flag flew over Okinawa and Normandy — but it also flew over Huntsville, Oxford, Little Rock, and Montgomery. Those attempting to appropriate the flag to promote their own racial and political views would do well to remember the same flag flew to enforce civil rights laws and rulings. And, racial view are important.
The current occupant of the White House has been quick to condemn any and all attacks by Muslims, both real and fake, however all but silent on the activities of white nationalists. Remember when he tweeted about the death of Richard Collins III who was stabbed to death in a hate crime in Maryland? I don’t either. Recall when Timothy Caughman was killed by a white supremacist in New York City? I don’t remember a tweet-storm after that tragedy. Then, there was a firebomb tossed into a mosque in Minnesota, a member of the administration described this as a fake attack. And then there was Charlottesville.
Who on this earth, who sentient enough to recall that World War II was fought against Nazis and white supremacists in Europe, could possibly say there were “some fine people” marching near a Virginia synagogue in a replication of a Nazi torch parade?
So, whatever the Tweeter-In-Chief might have to say, the current #TakeAKnee protests aren’t about the flag — they are about a system that minimizes the accountability for the deaths of African Americans. They aren’t about the U.S. Military — they are about policing systems and institutions that give every appearance of disparaging the lives and rights of those for whom the flags flew in Huntsville, Oxford, Little Rock, and Montgomery.
We can only hope the Tweeter-in-Chief gets the message from the National Football League this weekend. However, I’m not holding my breath.