Why We Kneel

We don’t kneel because we hate the flag. We kneel because we believe in what it stands for.

As a people, we fight the good fight every day.  We are fighting to reclaim our democracy.  We are fighting to keep our institutions of fairness and equality intact.  It seems like we are at war and every day we are struggling to hold onto a way of life that we have cherished for generations; and yet, those institutions seem to be steadily eroded by the current administration.

The president has a habit of attacking his enemies, whether they are fictional or otherwise.  And right now, one of his perceived enemies seem to be the NFL players that are currently exercising their first amendment rights to protest the killing and unconstitutional jailing of black and brown people.

African American men, women and children are being shot at an alarming rate by the very people that have taken an oath to serve and protect us.  And for some, those percentages aren’t alarming at all.  In fact, those percentages may even be viewed as deserving or self-inflicted.

The African American community’s experience of the police force is different than that of white people.  With law enforcement, we know that we are deemed as “other” and somehow, we are perceived as guilty before proven innocent.  A simple stop is three times more likely to escalate to confrontation with a person of color than it is for our white counterparts.

From The Guardian: “Black Americans were incarcerated in state prisons at an average rate of 5.1 times that of white Americans, and in some states that rate was 10 times or more. The US is 63.7% non-Hispanic white, 12.2% black, 8.7% Hispanic white and 0.4% Hispanic black, according to the most recent census.”

Black men are perceived as a threat.  We are somehow viewed as people that would commit a crime before we are allowed to speak.  We are viewed as “foreign” and that we are not deserving of fairness and equal treatment.

This is not to say that white people are not inappropriately stopped or that a white man may not have had his life taken by a trigger-happy police officer.  This is also not to say that all police officers are trigger happy.

But we are living in a new era.  We have a president that attacks the very men that are kneeling in silent protest to the killing of un-armed black men, women and children because of a perception that they are somehow dangerous.  Rather than address the concerns of these men, Trump deems it more appropriate to attack them.  And it is in this action that he conveys a message that our lives are not as important as everyone else’s.

This is why we kneel.

Our silent protest is shedding light on an issue that has sat on the sidelines for far too long.  When a police officer kills a person of color and is subsequently released because the officer states that he or she was in fear for their life, it creates a narrative that somehow, the life that was taken had little or no value. That person would simply be deemed a casualty of the war between right and wrong.

The problem with that ideology is that the killing of black men, women and children is disproportionate to the killings of white men, women and children.

Too many of my Caucasian brothers and sisters will say that they are tired of hearing about the perceived injustices perpetrated on people of color.  But guess what? We don’t like talking about it!  We really don’t.  But we have to bring it up again and again because nothing has changed.  In short, we will stop bringing up this topic and will be more than happy to leave it alone once things change.

This is why we kneel.

I have nephews, nieces, brothers, cousins and friends.  I silently fear for them.  It is not overt, and it doesn’t occupy every moment of my day.  But I think about them.

Several years ago, I was driving home from a trip to New York with my husband and another couple.  I had just purchased a brand-new car that still had the temporary tags on it.  As I was driving through Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a police officer drove up very quickly behind me, pulled me over and demanded to see my driver’s license, vehicle registration and insurance card.  I rolled down my window and handed him the documents that he requested.  He peered into the car and saw my husband and passengers who were white, gave pause, and then handed me my documents.  He said that I was speeding in a residential neighborhood and let me off with a warning.  I took a deep breath as I pulled off in silence.  My passengers asked me what that was about and they couldn’t figure out why we were stopped.  They didn’t know…but I knew.

This is why we kneel.

We people of color don’t like the fact that we’re assumed to be criminals without reason.  We don’t like being pre-judged: that somehow, because of where we are physically located, we were somehow up to no-good (especially if that neighborhood is predominately white).

Black parents are tired of having the conversation with their sons and daughters about what to do when you encounter the police just to ensure that they will come home alive.

This is why we kneel.

High-profile killings have enraged the black community…but no one outside of us seems to care.  We have a president who refuses to entertain the notion that a large demographic of this country is tired of having their men and women killed senselessly.  Instead, he continues to create a narrative that somehow, the athletes that choose to kneel are disrespecting the American Flag.  And he rallies his base over and over creating a false narrative that we don’t care about this nation or its citizens.

This is why we kneel.

Stephon Clark, Alton Sterling, Terrance Crutcher, Philando Castile, Walter Scott, Eric Harris, Tony Robinson, Rumain Brisbon, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Michael Brown Jr. and Eric Garner: all men and children who have lost their lives. Only half of their killers were brought to justice.

This is why we kneel.

The flag is supposed to cover all the citizens of this country.  It is supposed to protect us…and yet, the flag doesn’t do that.  Until we get that protection…until people of color are viewed as contributing members of society instead of being deemed as “other”, we will continue to kneel and we will continue to protest.

Our kneeling is nothing different than the peaceful protests of the civil rights era of the sixties.    It is no different than Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat.  Although it is true that some of those peaceful marches ended in violence, we did not create that violence.  We are simply standing up for what we believe in because under the constitution, we have the right to do this.

But some of you don’t think so.

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