“I have come to see that our legal and political institutions are dangerously unresponsive and unyielding to the impassioned grievances of our own people” —Senator Charles Goodell
When Philando Castile’s killer, Officer Jeronimo Yanez, was found not guilty on Friday—despite the fact that Castile’s murder was livestreamed on Facebook—shock immediately spread from the streets to social media. Some celebrities in the world of sports and entertainment used their expansive platforms to spread the (rather self-evident) message that a great injustice had occurred. They decried the fact that a man had been killed solely because of a police officer’s reaction to the color of his skin, and there would be no penalty for that killing.
But one athlete expressed something more serious, more radical, and more fitting for a political moment where, to quote Naomi Klein’s new book, No Is Not Enough.
That athlete was exiled free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick. First he expressed his sympathies, writing, “My heart aches for Philando’s family.”
Then he sent another message: “A system that perpetually condones the killing of people, without consequence, doesn’t need to be revised, it needs to be dismantled!”
Beneath those words, he posted a photo of two eerily similar badges: one, from the 19th century, reads runaway slave patrol and the other, from the 21st century, reads police officer.
It was a bracing statement that spoke to our effort to understand how the courts seem to have decided that cops have a license to kill if their victim is black. It was also a reminder that political expressions like this are precisely why Kaepernick is still without a job. NFL owners are set on punishing him for his anthem protests, his Know Your Rights Camps that teach young people “how to navigate oppression,” and his social-media postings. He wants us to confront the gap between what this country purports to stand for and the lived experiences of black Americans.
For NFL owners, agitating for the dignity of black life—unlike spousal abuse, drunk driving, or even murder—is unacceptable. Quarterbacks with one-tenth of Kaepernick’s résumé have been invited to training camps, while he and his spectacular 2016 4:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio remain at home. It’s a blackballing, and to deny this is to deny the existence of the nose on your face. It’s having someone spit in your eye and tell you it’s raining.