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Killing Kaepernick’s Movement

Art by Evan McCarthy | CC BY 2.0

“A system that perpetually condones the killing of people, without consequence, doesn’t need to be revised, it needs to be dismantled!”

— Colin Kaepernick

NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick was clear from the outset. Beginning in the 2016 pre-season he declared that he would not stand during the playing of the national anthem. He would instead “take a knee” and he did so to protest the police killing of over 300 black people every year. In the summer of 2016 Alton Sterling was murdered one day and Philando Castille the next. Both killings took place on camera and Kaepernick began to speak up. He didn’t shrink and didn’t hesitate in denouncing the everyday carnage in this country. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Kaepernick’s motives were always clear, but they have now been muddled by the usual suspects of spineless liberalism and opportunistic, traitorous black people. The history of the struggle for liberation is littered with examples of cooptation and ruin at the hands of the fearful and the deceitful.

Donald Trump’s foray into the Kaepernick story sealed the deal for erasure. By calling any player who refused to stand for the anthem a “son of a bitch” he ensured controversy but over the wrong issue. Kaepernick’s stance was not about patriotism, the flag, or whether or not white people approved of his actions.

What should be a call to action for a new movement has instead brought many dubious characters out of the woodwork and onto the bandwagon. Trump is a lightning rod for outrage but not necessarily because his critics are serious about fighting racism.

Some of those who waded into the Trump storm have no interest in fighting police brutality. They had already taken a knee of silence to avoid being attacked by racist white people. Basketball star Lebron James belongs in that category.

James called Trump a “bum” on social media and received undeserved applause. Name calling directed at a reviled man isn’t very brave but that is the limit of the super star’s political courage. James said nothing about Tamir Rice , an eleven-year old shot dead by Cleveland police. Rice’s grieving mother spoke for millions of people when she pleaded for James to say something about her child who was killed in the city where James makes a fortune. “I’m not asking nobody to quit their job or anything, but make a statement for us black people out here.” We can only hope that she didn’t hold her breath. Now the man who could only mumble “I don’t have enough knowledge about it,” is receiving kudos for his mild invective against a man whose overt racism renders protest moot.

Trump’s intrusion has given legitimacy to cooptation and the dilution of Kaepernick’s powerful message. The media chime in and make note of every white person who claims to support his efforts without asking where they stand on the issue of state sanctioned murder. We are now told to be happy that a particular white person, or a veteran, or an old white veteran is taking a knee. The same people who patted themselves on the back for taking down Confederate monuments or wearing pink pussy hats now boast that they “stand with Kap.”

Even NFL team owners who threatened to fire protesting players are now kneeling, locking arms and singing kumbaya. The drama is proof that just a handful of people were ever serious about waging a fight against police murder. The Johnny-come-latelies and two-faced racists have sealed the deal and robbed Kaepernick’s protest of any power.

Black people are always standing alone, just like Kaepernick. We may plan a poor people’s march on Washington but then allow radical movement building to turn into an extravaganza approved by the Kennedy administration. The pressure to water down our demands is always very real.

We must say with a loud voice that we join with Colin Kaepernick in the fight against police brutality. We must reclaim his righteous anger and tell anyone who wants to promote peace or love or patriotism or team spirit that their mealy mouthed intentions are not welcome.

Kaepernick made police brutality his target. No one should claim to join with him unless they are completely onboard with that sentiment. Stand or kneel with Kaepernick against the police state or don’t bother at all.

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Margaret Kimberley writes the Freedom Rider column for Black Agenda Report, where this essay originally appeared. 

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