Symbols are funny things. Subjective things. They mean different things to different people. The flag, the national anthem are just that: symbols. To my father these symbols are very dear. He is a white man, in his 60s, raised in a small town where the mid-west meets the south. He was drafted into the Vietnam war in his early 20s. Men forced to fight that war seem to go one of two ways. They either reject the idea that they were fighting for their country, or embrace the idea. The latter believe that they sacrificed mightily for the United States, old Glory, and purple mountain’s majesty, former believe that they were sacrificed upon the alter of imperialism and American Exceptionalism.. neither are exactly wrong. My father lives somewhere in the middle. He venerates national symbols like Old Glory and the Anthem, but he dissuaded me from joining up during the first gulf war. Maybe he just wanted me to go to college first. Maybe he knew that I would have a problem working in the authoritarian confines of the military. I’ll never know, but I do know he’s apoplectic about Colin Kaepernick’s protest. He is so fully invested in the symbolism of the flag and the anthem he cannot see that those things have decidedly different meanings for the 49ers QB. For Kaepernick the flag is a patch worn by officers who harass, arrest, beat and kill young men like him. In that position I’d have a hard time standing in salute myself. The real problem is you cannot square the circle. My father is never going to see the oppression that those symbols carry for some, and Kaepernick is always going to carry those associations.. and they are not just unpleasant, they are downright terrifying. As a black man with access to the eyes and ears of the nation he is protesting. Americans protest. We have the right to free speech and we use it. All of the histrionics surrounding the protest are childish. Yes Kaepernick is rich, but if great wealth and fame can’t insulate him from his feelings of oppression then nothing can. Yes he was adopted by a middle class white folks. Yet again, if this veneer of whiteness doesn’t make him feel safe in America, what could? Nothing. So he sits, or kneels. Seems like there is momentum being gained. Hopefully things will change, because all lives SHOULD matter, but people in power act like black lives don’t.
A number of folks Look at Black lives Matter as a movement and then point to crime in predominantly African American cities. This is textbook false equivalence. Rapists rape, murderers murder, thieves steal. That is expected behavior of criminals, committing crime. For the supposed protectors of the people, the police, we should have a higher standard. To say that because criminals kill more people than police, therefore police killings are not a problem is insane. The idea that violence and harassment by police has no effect on the policing of these neighborhoods is willfully obtuse, and the idea that one cannot work against crime and criminals and protest police violence at the same time is yet again fallacious. People are invested in the idea that cops protect us. It is terrifying to think that these folks we contract with to have power to keep the peace might abuse that power. Instead of holding a higher standard, weeding out those who would abuse power, folks (if we’re honest, mostly white folks) make excuses, blame the victim, and perpetuate the problem. 1 lone single solitary officer who abuses their power is a big problem. I don’t understand why that is difficult to say out loud. Most officers are doing what they can. They are generally overworked, under staffed, under trained. I get that, I work in education. You do the best you can. That doesn’t excuse torture, murder, or even harassment. This is the job. People are dead, lives ruined, the trust of an entire populace is destroyed. That is the legacy that ‘All lives matter’ folks are defending.
I see hope in the flag. A promise of freedom (promises are not always kept, but at least the idea is there) So I will stand for the anthem, but I understand why folks won’t. If Colin Kaepernick, or Megan Rapinoe, or Eric Reid or Jeremy Lane can’t see it that way, and refuse to salute, I will listen to their stories. I will ally with them as best I can. I will do my best to fund and work with officers trying to do their job, and record them if I am in a place to do so, just in case they do not. I will vote in ways that ensure that in America, all lives matter.. really all lives.