Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who refuses to stand during the national anthem as a protest against police brutality, has prompted sharp rebukes from local law enforcement.
The Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association said its members could opt out of working voluntary security details at Levi’s Stadium, the team’s home field, because of Kaepernick’s comments and demonstration.
“If the 49ers organization fails to take action to stop this type of inappropriate behavior, it could result in police officers choosing not to work at your facilities,” according to the letter, which the union published on its website Friday of last week. “The board of directors of the Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association has a duty to protect its members and work to make all of their working environments free of harassing behavior.”
— Walter Katz (@katz_oversight) September 3, 2016
Santa Clara police Chief Michael Sellers told the union to back off from those statements, reminding them that officers have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution. “The safety of our community is our highest priority,” he wrote in a prepared statement Saturday. “I will urge the POA leadership to put the safety of our citizens first. I will work with both sides to find a solution. In the meantime, I will ensure we continue to provide a safe environment at Levi’s Stadium.”
Santa Clara City Council candidate Ahmad Rafah criticized the council for what he called a failure to open a dialogue about civil rights and racial equality as well as fair treatment of law enforcement.
“Our leaders should have had the foresight to get ahead of this problem and made whatever effort was needed to fix it,” he said. “Instead, the council let this problem unravel to the point of creating such social unrest that it now may affect the actual safety of stadium goers and our brave officers alike.”
When asked about Kaepernick’s protest, President Barack Obama told reporters on Monday that the quarterback is simply exercising his constitutional right. “I think he cares about some real, legitimate issues that have to be talked about,” President Obama said at a news conference in China. “And if nothing else, what he’s done is he’s generated more conversation around some topics that need to be talked about.”
Kaepernick—who is half black, half white—triggered polarizing reactions when he first sat through the national anthem before a 49ers preseason game with the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 26. He later said he refused to “stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
During the team’s final preseason game in San Diego last Thursday, Kaepernick kneeled during the anthem and said he plans to continue to do so into the regular NFL season, which starts next week.
“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” he told NFL Media after the preseason game where he started his protest. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Police took offense at what they called a generalization. Santa Clara’s Chief Sellers called Kaepernick’s comments “disparaging,” “hurtful” and “distasteful,” but no less protected under the First Amendment. People claiming to take offense on behalf of military troops and veterans burned his jersey and launched a barrage of insults on social media.
Yet Kaepernick’s jersey sales have reportedly skyrocketed this past week. And while some some veterans took umbrage at the protest taking place during a ritual show of patriotism, other military personnel said they respect Kaepernick’s stance.
One group of veterans wrote in an open letter that the quarterback’s actions stem from a long tradition of athletes—including San Jose State’s Tommie Smith and John Carlos—using their public profile to call attention to injustice. Plus, they added, his right to speak openly was one of the freedoms they fought to protect.
“As veterans, we implore all Americans to find your own way to challenge this status quo and advocate for ‘a more perfect union,’” reads the letter signed by a group called Veterans for Kaepernick. “Your method of protest may not be to refrain from the traditions surrounding our national symbols, and it doesn’t have to be. You have the same right as Colin Kaepernick to choose whether and how to advocate, a right we support and served for.”
They called his peaceful protest, however controversial, a form of patriotism.
“Indeed,” they wrote, “we see no higher form of patriotism.”
— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) September 5, 2016