There has been a lot of analysis—both thoughtful and noxious—of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit down during the national anthem in the past few days. Unfortunately, there has been less conversation about the politics behind his action.
Instead of reckoning with the substance of his critique, much of the media coverage has fostered an abstract discussion about patriotism and etiquette—centering the question of whether he has the “right” to protest rather than examining what it is he’s trying to say.
As Charles Modiano breaks down brilliantly, this is the wrong approach:
Colin Kaepernick’s deliberate act of protest to sit out the national anthem caught the nation’s attention, and this initial sentence framed most media headlines: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color.” But the meat of Kaepernick’s cause actually came two sentences later: “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Hold it right there: “Getting away with murder.” That is the story.
Kaepernick makes it clear that his action was connected to the movement against police violence. But a closer examination of his 18-minute press avail on Sunday reveals even more about his motivations and thinking. The transcript itself contains the most effective defense against the legions trying to distort or delegitimize his actions.
Responding to reporters, Kaepernick demonstrated a methodical and, whether you agree or disagree, ideologically consistent rationale for sitting out the anthem. Kaepernick is appalled by police brutality, which he sees as an expression of bipartisan, government-sanctioned violence. He wants to use his platform to raise awareness and is willing to risk his job to do it. He is, as ESPN columnist Bomani Jones put it, “asking for justice, not peace.”
In the presser, Kaepernick said:
These aren’t new situations. This isn’t new ground. There are things that have gone on in this country for years and years and have never been addressed, and they need to be. There’s a lot of things that need to change. One specifically? Police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. People are being given paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.