In his Letter From Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. saw the blame for enduring racial oppression not on racists, but on silent allies. The people who agreed that racial divisions should be cast off once and for all, but just not yet.
King inspired a decades-long culture of nonviolence, and it has been an outstretched hand that America-is-a-white-nation simmering racists have refused to shake. Blacks continue to be murdered in conspicuous crimes of racial hatred.
Meanwhile, the police have shown systemic problems recognizing the rights to life of the black citizens they pull over or discover walking outside at night. The police brutality has been swept under the rug by America’s self-righteous, conservative persecution-complex, which views every attack on one cop as an attack on all cops—an exaggerative pattern of hyper-patriotism that affects many topics in conservative ideology. The polarized partisanship of law enforcement politics is exacerbated by the culture of insular police loyalty, and police do not effectively police themselves.
Consistent videos of police brutality appear on everyone’s news and social feeds on a weekly basis, and prove it is obvious that cops do not often stop other cops from exploding into obscene, murderous acts of aggression. This is not just a problem for black citizens, as police are too quick to kill or assault white citizens as well, and, increasingly, offenses as minor as broken tail lights, not putting out cigarettes, selling cigarettes, marijuana possession, and even obediently complying with directions are punished with gunshot wounds and/or the death penalty. This a problem for all of society, especially since it is only now being identified thanks to the ease with which daily life can be recorded with cell phones. This problem is not a new problem.
It is also a problem of governance. Law enforcement is excluded from the judicial branch of government for a reason, though individual police officers continue to exact impulsive punishments for the crimes they find. The police are not trained to objectively orchestrate trials recognizing the Constitutional protections of the citizens they are allegedly serving and protecting.
Police departments also very clearly have a persisting problem of infiltration by racist psychopaths, whose anger issues are terrorizing society. Police personality testing should flag these aggressive tendencies, and police training should remove any such instincts of unnecessarily brutal impulsiveness. But neither current testing nor training is stopping what is very clearly an institutionalized problem.
Most police officers are professionals dedicated to community service, but let’s be real: they need to be paid more, and they need to be held to a much higher standard of policing. The personal sacrifices and dangers inherently present in maintaining order in the community need to be honored with greater employment benefits, but the heroic goals of policing are not a get-out-of-jail-free cards for cops who fail to meet expectations because of racial biases. Colin Kaepernick’s protest is aimed at this moral failing.
Fundamentally, Kaepernick’s nonviolent protest of police and racial oppression is the perfectly legal use of a basic right of American citizenship. Meanwhile, it is justified by Californian police officers’ threats to boycott his football games, which kind of proves Kaepernick’s accusations that the police choose who they serve and protect.
But the real blame rests not on sensitive cops, or even the racists who publicly insult Colin Kaepernick and burn his jersey; the blame rests on the silent allies who believe Kaepernick has a point but think he is unnecessarily pulling racial tension into the National Football League. It’s a contemporary “not yet.”
People shunned Martin Luther King, Jr.’s nonviolently outstretched hand and told him to just keep waiting for real racial reconciliation throughout the 1950s and 60s, but it never came. Now people are telling Colin Kaepernick to continue waiting for that same reconciliation in 2016 by wishing he would just shut up about it.
Every person in America ought to be joining Colin Kaepernick in protesting the national anthem while America continues to fail in living up to its own ideals. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are what our nation and its martyrs of freedom have struggled for and died for—not for an ignorant mandate that people stand up for shallow displays of blind patriotism.
Colin Kaepernick has started a silent, nonviolent protest of America’s racial oppression that harms literally no one. He has an American right to expression, and every cop in America has sworn an oath to protect his peaceful protest. Every football game attendee and television viewer who ignores his message and wants to censor his right to express it is not living according to the ideals of the flag they so existentially revere.
If Colin Kaepernick’s anthem-kneeling offends you, you are a problem. If it doesn’t offend you, yet you wish he would keep racial controversy out of your Sundays you are a bigger problem.