Head to Head: Colin Kaepernick

Max Meyer’s side of the battle around Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner

Max Meyer, Guest Writer

I fully support and respect Colin Kaepernick’s right to sit during the national anthem. I would die to maintain the rights that I believe are so crucial to the survival of a free society such as ours. His right to stand up, or sit down, in this case, for what he believes in is his constitutional right. What Kaepernick doesn’t seem to appreciate is that thousands of people, black and white, have died so that he can speak his mind.

This is a man being paid 19 million dollars a year to throw a ball, and he uses his pedestal of privilege to trounce upon the very country that allows him to live his lavish lifestyle. If I thought that his behavior and lifestyle were even remotely in line with what he says are his values, I would take him seriously. This is not the case. He is so unserious and one sided that he has even worn socks depicting pigs in police uniforms.

The national anthem is a time when we all put away our differences and come together in a gesture of mutual respect. We respect the players, respect the fans, and thank the people who have paid with their life so that we can live in freedom; so that we have the liberty to play a good game of football. Kaepernick’s actions are nothing less than divisive. Personally, I’ve had enough divisiveness during 2016 and this election for a lifetime.

Many people have correctly said that Kaepernick’s protest has started a national conversation, though I question whether the character of this conversation is actually conducive to progress on the issues about which he claims to care. People simply don’t listen to one another these days. Social media as a platform for discussion is nothing short of catastrophic. People seldom engage with people of the opposing opinion; one says only what one can squeeze into 140 characters. If Kaepernick wants to use his platform to start a coherent exchange of ideas, excellent. He has not made even a slight attempt to do this. What he has said lacks substance; it’s nothing more than a string of broad and nonspecific talking points from a very rich man. Sounds like someone we all know…

In MLK’s famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, he asserts that the “white moderate” is the biggest hurdle in the Civil Rights movement; in other words, people who say “I agree with what you are saying, just not with how you are saying it.” Respecting this theory, I offer my thoughts on what Kaepernick purports to be saying: He said, at a press conference, “I will not stand to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people.” He later clarifies that he is referring to police brutality.

According to the Washington Post, shootings involving a white officer and an an unarmed black male- the combination that has sparked so much controversy- made up 4% of all fatal police shootings in 2015. We hear a lot about these incidents, and they can be cases of clear injustice and potentially racism, like the South Carolina shooting of Walter Scott. That officer was clearly not just in his actions and has been indicted on a murder charge.
There is no doubt still injustice for black Americans in this country. Our prison system and failed war on drugs disproportionately affect blacks, and this is where a national effort is needed. More black Americans have been murdered in Chicago alone during 2016 than were killed by police all of last year. I understand that it is dangerous to compare this type of crime; the shooting of a black man by a white police officer carries a powerful historical connotation, and a visceral response is completely warranted.

But here is what I see: Black Lives Matter activists shame what they see as ignorance of a large systemic problem by many people, and then turn a blind eye themselves to other types of violence that are negatively affecting the black community. Don’t the solutions to these problems go hand in hand? There is no doubt a long and strained relationship between the black community and the police. In identifying the reasons for mistrust on both sides of this historical relationship, can’t we begin to move forward in correcting police related culture?
Individuals, black and white, have biases; I contend that it is lack of open communication about these biases that creates tension. This raises the question of why there is such a communication gap. Unfortunately, most of the discussion as yet has taken place on the street with fists, riot shields, and voices raised. While there are obviously exceptions to this, our media doesn’t exactly report on “community dialogues.” They would rather cover rioting and teargas. The police need to be the hosts of real conversation and reach out to their constituents; in turn, constituents needs to reach back. The Citizen’s Police Academy in Iowa City is a great example of the basis for an effective mutual discussion about community policing needs going forward.
Local conversations are and will always be far more effective than a national shouting contest. You cannot compare New York City and Iowa City. This is the problem with taking this discussion to a national level, like Kaepernick’s national TV protest has done.  If Kaepernick is serious whatsoever, he should become a local advocate. He could easily start by aligning himself with the SFPD and setting an example of how police-community interaction should work. Should he want to speak out nationally, how about he calls out the prison system? The war on drugs?

While I happen to disagree with Kaepernick’s medium of protest, what troubles me more is his actions’ lack of efficacy. His apparent fix to a divisive issue is dividing us up along the one thing that we share: our country. So can we please stop talking about him and actually get down to business while he sits around and whines?

“If you want a symbolic gesture, don’t burn the flag; wash it.” – Norman Thomas