America is known as the land of the free and the home of the brave. But for African-Americans and other people of color, the fight for equality remains a never-ending struggle.
NFL players who kneel or raise their fists during the national anthem are protesting police brutality and racial inequality. The countless murders of unarmed black men by police officers and a criminal justice system riddled with racial disparities are Jim Crow-era issues. These silent, peaceful and non-violent protests should be commended, not vilified.
People of color have been the targets of police brutality throughout American history. In the 1960s, the FBI often sent undercover agents to infiltrate Civil Rights groups with a goal to cause chaos. Black Panther members Mark Clark and Fred Hampton were assassinated in an early morning raid by the Chicago police in 1969. Although their deaths were ruled as a justifiable homicide, large settlements were awarded to their families and other plaintiffs in 1982.
While African Americans comprise about 12 percent of the total population, they represent 33 percent of the federal and state prison population. And, 27 percent of all people placed under arrest in the United States in 2016 were African-Americans. Unfortunately, the disparities do not end there.
An eye-opening 33 percent of individuals that are killed by police officers every year are African American. Even more concerning, a whopping 69 percent of police brutality victims in 2015 were unarmed African-Americans. To make matters worse, only three percent of police brutality cases that were monitored that same year resulted in an officer being held accountable for a crime. This is not just shameful. It’s legalized assault and murder.
After the Civil War, most African American veterans risked mistreatment and murder by simply wearing their uniforms. Nothing changed after the first World War when many veterans of color were denied the benefits and disability pay they had been pledged. Yet even with these miscarriages of trust, more than a million African American men signed up for World War II to fight for their country.
African American veterans who survived the war were shafted again once they returned home. The G.I. Bill had been purposely written in a way that most of its benefits — college tuition, housing assistance and business loans — were not made available to these brave patriots.
It has become customary for small groups of NFL players to meet at midfield after each game to form prayer circles. Should we vilify these players for exercising their first amendment rights because some atheists feel offended, or should we respect their freedom of speech? Unlike tariffs, when it comes to the constitution, we cannot pick winners and losers.
The double standard that exists in America today reaps of hypocrisy. A baker who is not willing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple is applauded for his discrimination on religious grounds. But NFL players who hold silent protests during national anthems in a country that oppresses African-Americans and people of color are booed and called traitors.
The right to protest does not come with rules and restrictions. To say that the national anthem or a football game is off limits for protestors is ridiculous. I understand the frustrations of drivers when protesters block highways and disrupt traffic. However, protest methods are not negotiable. Dissent, by nature, is not politically correct.
The American Revolutionary War began as a result of protests and civil disobedience. Demonstrators who illegally boarded a ship and tossed an entire shipment of tea into the Boston Harbor started a resistance movement that changed history. The Colonists fought oppression from the British Parliament and refused to abide by the Tea Act, which most felt violated their rights of no taxation without representation.
The Boston Tea Party was defended by Samuel Adams as an organized protest that was the only option for the Colonists to protect their constitutional rights. More than two centuries later, another Tea Party was formed in 2009 and organized protests that opposed the administration of America’s first black president, Barack Obama. Besides reducing spending, waste, and taxation, the main goal of the movement was to ensure the government adherence to the Constitution.
African American athletes have a long history of highlighting social injustice by protesting the national anthem. Track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos cemented their place in history when they raised their black-gloved fists at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Four years later in Germany, Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett were barred from the Olympic Games. Why? The duo stood on the podium but refused to face the flag during the national anthem.
The first documented instance of African Americans protesting the national anthem is believed to have started in 1892 after three black men, who were in police custody, were lynched by a white mob. Nearly 1,000 angry people attending a meeting were urged to sing the de facto national anthem at the time, “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.” However, the crowd was in no mood to sing the song with one person saying, “I don’t want to sing that song until this country is what it claims to be, ‘sweet land of liberty.’”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was known as Lew Alcindor while attending UCLA, also did not stand during the national anthem. To rectify the problem before the Bruins matchup against the Washington Huskies, the national anthem was played while the teams were still in the locker room. In 1971, when five African American basketball players at Florida State University refused to stand for the anthem, the song was played before the players came onto the court.
When Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended in 1996 by the NBA for not standing during the national anthem, the controversy was not about patriotism or being disrespectful to the flag. It was the fact that the league was undermining democratic values by attempting to force its players to participate in a patriotic exercise.
Unlike citizens in some third world nations who are mandated to attend flag-raising ceremonies every morning, Americans are not forced by any laws to stand for the national anthem. The same constitution that guarantees citizens the right to bear arms also provides Americans the freedom to choose to participate in voluntary exercises.
NFL players like Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid have proven that America is still the home of the brave. However, until police officers are held accountable for their actions and the criminal justice system is reformed, America will never be the land of the free for people of color.