With liberty and justice for some
October 17, 2017
"But you're not black. Remember, we only shoot black people. Yeah. We only kill black people, right?" Georgia Police Lt. Greg Abbott to white female driver, July 10, 2016.
This officer declared out loud what happens too often to black men who are targeted just because they are black. In response to this injustice, professional athletes such as Colin Kaepernick have been kneeling during the National Anthem at sporting events. They aren't disrespecting the Anthem or the flag. If they wanted to do that, they would turn their backs during the singing. They are protesting the ongoing shooting of black men by police and the general inequality black people endure every day. They are kneeling quietly, not hurting anyone. And this is driving President Donald Trump crazy.
Colin Kaepernick is a Christian. He follows Jesus' teaching of the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), working with ministries such as Habitat for Humanity. Donald Trump is president of the United States. He took an oath to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution," but he demonstrates once again by his attacks on these athletes that he has no clue about what the Constitution means.
Trump has redefined patriotism as standing for the National Anthem. Ignoring basic American values such as honoring the U.S. Constitution, abiding by the ideals in the Declaration of Independence, living by the principles of equality, justice, liberty – none of that matters as long as you stand during the anthem.
You can lie, cheat, discriminate against minorities, and oppress those around you, but by golly, as long as you stand for the national anthem, you are a patriot. I found it interesting that "The Star-Spangled Banner" wasn't adopted as the National Anthem until 1931. How did all those people born before 1931, all those who fought in WW I and WW II, manage to be patriotic without it?
Trump claims these athletes are disrespecting veterans even though many of them are veterans themselves and veterans' groups such as VoteVets, with 220,000 members, support their right to do this. Trump himself got five deferments from Vietnam, so he wouldn't have to become a veteran. Trump mocks veterans such as John McCain who don't fall into his narrow picture of what they should be. So who is actually disrespecting veterans?
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These players are quietly exercising their First Amendment rights. They are trying to get people's attention. But the right-wing says you can't kneel peacefully, you can't stand in front of government buildings peacefully, you can't march in the streets peacefully. You're not supposed to do anything that makes the establishment feel uncomfortable.
"Donald Trump has said he supports a peaceful protest because it's an American's right… But not this protest, and there's the problem: The opinion that any protest you don't agree with is a protest that should be stopped. Martin Luther King should have marched across a different bridge. Young, black Americans should have gone to a different college and found a different lunch counter." Sportscaster Dale Hansen, Sept. 25, 2017
In the 1950s and 1960s, African-American Nevadans protested for their basic human rights, such as the right not to be lynched. They protested peacefully, but they were still threatened by people who didn't want them to have these basic rights. Charles Kellar was a black attorney who moved to Nevada in 1959 and had to sue to get the law license he had earned. In 1967 he protested unequal employment for African-Americans. In response, the windows in his house were shot out.
In 1955, Dr. James B. McMillan moved to Nevada as one of its first black dentists. He became president of the Las Vegas NAACP. His actions threatened people. "I started receiving calls from mob people, who at the time owned casinos. They told me to stop what I was doing or they would drop me in Lake Mead."
If some white man had come to these black men and told them, "Your rights are given to you by God, not the government," these men could have quoted the Declaration of Independence: "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men." People fought and died for these rights. When government fails to protect our rights, they can be lost, and we must protest.
In 1781, Thomas Jefferson said, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever." If we don't keep working towards true justice, if we oppose those who are seeking true liberty, we should all be trembling.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.