After Charlottesville, millions are seeing a connection between the NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s choice to not rise to the lyrics of the National Anthem which, as he sees them, are hypocritical and contrast with the reality of our times.
Yesterday, thousands in New York City gathered at the National Football League Headquarters to protest the lockout of the quarterback from his job because he took a stance and dared to have an opinion. Among them were a group of men and women of the law whom the Saturday before announced their support of the athlete and of freedom to pursue truth.
Joined by community and human rights advocates, members of the NYPD12, Blacks in Law Enforcement of America and The Justice League of New York stood peacefully and solemnly yet solid and strong on Pier 1 of Brooklyn Bridge Park last Saturday morning in support of \Kaepernick, and also in support of, as guest speaker Frank Serpico said, “All who have the courage to stand up against injustice and oppression in this country and in the world”.
As the sun embraced them and the beautiful sweep of the Brooklyn Bridge and East River waters, it was noted that the gathering of some 100 stood directly across the watery pathway from 75 Wall Street, a site recognized as New York City’s first auction block for enslaved Africans and the “gloom of their grave” at the African Burial Ground – feet from the actual Wall Street they were forced to build. Following is writer Marlon Rice’s account in Part One of a three-part series about that day and the effort of those men and women who truly stand for and believe in, “the home of the brave, land of (the would-be) free.” (Bernice Elizabeth Green),
Donning black #imwithkap T-shirts, the group whose count reached around ten dozen, filled the entire northwest corner of the boardwalk as some of the city’s most influential current and former NYPD officers spoke on the importance of Kaepernick’s message, and its relation to some of the issues that our communities have with regards to policing.
Men like retired officer Frank Serpico, who became famous in the 1970’s for being one of the first cops to openly report systematic police corruption, and Damon Jones, who is the New York Representative for Blacks in Law Enforcement in America, used the occasion not only to support Kaepernick’s right to take a knee during the National Anthem but also to speak about systemic issues of race that plague the police force and its interaction with our communities.
Serpico took the opportunity to express his support, not just for Kaepernick, but for the men and women who organized the event. He said, “I am here to support my brothers and sisters …I’m 81 years old. I’ve gotten everything I’ve ever needed in life. But the one thing I wanted and never got was justice”.
Jones also spoke on Kaepernick’s motivation for protest in plain words, “Colin Kaepernick recognized the racism, sexism and cronyism that is in law enforcement”. He then supported his assertion with facts. Speaking on the 2010 Police-on-Police shooting task force established by then-Governor David Paterson, Mr. Jones pointed out that the findings of the task force revealed that “racial bias, conscious or unconscious, plays a role in a police officer shooting a victim”.
Jumaane Williams, the outspoken Councilman from the 45th District in Brooklyn, was also on hand, proudly wore Kaepernick’s 49ers jersey. He recalled facing local scrutiny similar to what Kaepernick has had to deal with on a national scale when he refused to stand during the singing of the National Anthem during a City Council meeting back in 2016. He said, “The most hate mail that I’ve ever gotten is when I sat for the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ in the City Council chambers”. He went on to explain that “what Kaepernick is doing is simply about pushing back on a structure of oppression and supremacy”.
With the events in Charlottesville reenergizing the perspective of many with regards to the current climate of injustice in America, this coming together of law enforcement and community members to support Kaepernick was about so much more than just one man taking a knee. It was about protecting the very American qualities of freedom of speech and expression, and the duty we each have to practice those freedoms, especially in the face of tyranny and inequity.
Graham Weatherspoon, one of the organizers and a retired NYPD detective who is currently a board member of the Amadou Diallo Foundation, quoted the 18th century political theorist and philosopher Edmund Burke, saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.
Sgt. Edwin Raymond, chief organizer of the event, agreed, adding that in the past those who took an active stance against injustice were also demonized at the time, only to be validated generations later. “As a nation, we have this habit of vindicating people in hindsight. Ali was vindicated in hindsight, Rosa Parks was vindicated in hindsight. With Colin Kaepernick, we have an opportunity to respect his work as it’s happening, in the present. We shouldn’t have to wait 20 years to understand the importance of what this man is trying to do.”
With the relationship between the police and the community as tense and as complex as it is, the idea and the execution of members of law enforcement coming together to support Kaepernick’s position and methods wound up becoming an icebreaker for the bigger discussion about injustice and corruption on the ground and in our neighborhoods.
On Monday, two days after the rally, Police Commissioner James O’Neill officially backed the officers who organized the rally. O’Neill was quoted as saying, “I have no issue with the officers (expressing themselves) whatsoever. In fact, I encourage it”. This is a direct reflection of the importance of Kaep’s silent protest and why it should be supported. As Councilman Williams put it, “Kaepernick’s act was probably the most patriotic act that many of us have seen in a very, very long time. We have to be honest about this discussion”.
For this writer, standing in the sun, with the East River at our backs and with the history of America casting its shadow over us, it was truly an empowering experience to watch members of law enforcement stand in support of exposing and defeating acts of injustice.
Thank you Colin Kaepernick. Your decision to take a knee has forced us all to analyze the issues of injustice, and that’s the first step towards solving these problems.
Part II and III will journey into the lives, beliefs and stories of Serpico, Jones, Weatherspoon and other men and women who stand or have stood on the front lines where justice is sometimes “half-disclosed” and truth is sometimes “half-concealed”.