Category Archives: Police Brutality

What Does It Mean To Be A Patriot?

The whole situation with Colin Kaepernick and the way some of his detractors are slamming him for being “unpatriotic” because of his refusal to stand during the national anthem has had me thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a “patriot.”

To me, being a patriot means more than obediently falling in line and saluting a flag or standing for the national anthem.  Yes, those are ways that we show our love for our country as common and shared expressions, but they shouldn’t be used as a litmus test for deciding who is a patriot and who is not.

The real test of patriotism, in my opinion, is how much a person ascribes to the ideals that their country represents, how much they practice them in daily life and how much they are willing to defend those ideals, not just from outside forces but also from the very government institutions that we create which are supposed to uphold and enforce those ideals. As soon as those institutions begin to act in ways that are not in sync with the values that a country represents, I believe it is the duty of citizens to respond.

Which is exactly what Kaepernick has been trying to do, although many people have chosen to stick with the (in their eyes, disrespectful) imagery of him sitting or kneeling during the national anthem, rather than actually listen to his grievances.  With any protest or refusal to salute or pay respect to a national symbol or song, there needs to be consideration of the context of the intended statement.  If Kaepernick were simply trying to be ornery and troll others, and if he didn’t offer any legitimate reason for refusing to stand, then there could be an argument made that he’s just trying to piss everyone off by refusing to respect a song that has become treasured by millions of Americans who love their country.  It would still be his right, but he would probably look like a douchebag to pretty much everyone (except maybe other trolls) and it wouldn’t be as easy to defend him.

But Kaepernick has offered very clear and coherent public statements about exactly why he refuses to stand.  He is protesting what he sees as clear indications that people of color are being systematically and disproportionately harassed, injured or killed at the hands of corrupt police departments.  And we have seen some pretty obvious instances and reports that support that stance.  In addition to the several graphic videos that have emerged within the past few years which depict excessive force (or outright murder) being perpetrated on black men and women at the hands of police, there have been damning reports from the Department Of Justice which have revealed bias against minorities among police departments in major cities.  These are American citizens that are being hurt or killed unjustly at the hands of government institutions that are funded by taxpayers and are there supposedly to protect us.  The concept of what America stands for might vary from person to person, but I would pretty confidently say that injustice, and citizens’ deaths at the hands of police, are not fundamental values that most proud Americans would say are representative of their country.

I think the controversy surrounding Kaepernick does reveal deep-seated racial divisions within our country.  Because we have seen and heard countless instances of white citizens complaining about the “tyranny” of government, and the public response from most Americans towards them is very different than their views of Kaepernick.  They actually present themselves as “true patriots” while the government is this big bad entity that exists to quash our rights.  A big reason that the second amendment is so adamantly treasured and defended by gun rights groups is that it represents the ability of American citizens to protect themselves from the threat of the government stepping all over their rights and lives.  The fact that Kaepernick is a wealthy and famous athlete in the NFL compounds some of the resentment towards him, (which is wrong too,) but I think at the end of the day, his skin color and culture (have you seen his ‘fro lately?) is a major reason that he is not seen as a patriot while other (white) citizens who complain about the government are.

Patriot_Defend_EdwardAbbey

It is easy to be a “patriot” when all that means is flying an American flag outside your door or having it as your profile picture on social media.  But how “patriotic” is a person really being, when they choose to ignore the legitimate grievances of their fellow American citizens?  That’s not true patriotism, in my eyes.  American author Edward Abbey once said “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”  This is exactly what Kaepernick, in his own way, is doing.

 

 

Colin Kaepernick photo: by Au Kirk; cropped by Moe Epsilon [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Dissent Is The Highest Form Of Patriotism

I like it when people have the guts to take a stand, even if it may cost them millions of dollars and intense backlash.  Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand during the national anthem definitely has people talking as of late.

And I think it’s funny how some of the same people who are mad about Kaepernick complaining about America, because he’s rich, want to elect a billionaire named Trump, who has built a presidential campaign complaining about how America isn’t great.

Kaepernick - Dissent

Cameras On Cops…Who Cares?

A few days ago, the Obama administration announced $263 million to go towards purchasing 50,000 body cameras for police officers across the country, as well as training in the responsible use of military-grade weaponry.  This, coupled with the burgeoning trend of police departments across the nation to begin using body cameras, seemed to be one positive beacon of hope to arise from the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Missouri.

In theory, body-cameras would be a good thing, and possibly prevent the kind of doubt and confusion that leads to cases like the Darren Wilson/Michael Brown incident in Ferguson, in which different narratives are told and there are conflicting eyewitness accounts.  After all, the camera doesn’t lie.  A video eyewitness would serve to protect not only citizens from excessive uses of force, but also officers from possible false accusations of such behavior.  If there had been video footage of Darren Wilson’s encounter with Michael Brown, perhaps a great deal of the confusion and anger that sprung forth from that incident would have been quelled.

Flash forward to a couple days ago, and a New York grand jury’s decision to not charge officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choke hold death of Eric Garner, which was captured on cell phone video by a bystander.  Painful to watch, Garner’s last moments alive are captured in full view in the video, including the choke hold (which is against NYPD policy) that lead to his death, and his pleas about not being able to breathe.

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Photo Courtesy aattp.org

Yet, inexplicably, no charges are being filed against Pantaleo.  It’s like the Rodney King case verdicts all over again, in which there was extensive video footage of the incident in question, except that this time, there will not even be a trial, which is perhaps more of a slap in the face.  But it brings to mind not just the Rodney King video, but also lesser-known (but just as disturbing) recordings such as the surveillance video and audio that was captured while homeless schizophrenic Kelly Thomas was being murdered by two former Fullerton police officers in Southern California.  In that case, while there was a trial, again inexplicably there were no convictions, on any of the possible charges.

So, it’s hard not to think, what good do cameras do, when despite their recording of an entire event, the evidence they bring forth still does not matter?  What does it take for a cop to be charged with a crime, and going further, convicted?  What more does a grand jury or a trial jury have to see that will convince them a crime (even one lesser than murder) has taken place?

Unfortunately, while new body cameras will surely bring about some good reality television highlight reels, they don’t seem to have the potential to matter in terms of helping America’s justice system work fairly when it comes to indicting and convicting police officers.  Sadly, we can expect many more deaths at the hands of overzealous officers that are not called to answer for their actions.  How many of these deaths need to occur before change happens remains to be known.  And what will bring about that change remains to be seen.