By now you’re probably familiar with the situation surrounding Colin Kapernick, the NFL quarterback who’s been protesting policy brutality toward visible minorities in America. It seems like distant history, but Karpernick’s protest began just over a year ago, when he sat during the national anthem during a preseason game in San Francisco.
After getting released by the 49ers in the weeks following his sit-down, Kapernick, who had decent career numbers, can’t buy a job in the League, which has only cast more coverage of his protest, leading to other NFL players symbolically joining in. Media coverage was cranked up to a near frenzy last week when President Trump referred to kneeling players as, to paraphrase slightly, “sons of bitches”.
Let’s not lose focus here. This is about how the police are supposed to do their job.
What is happening with American law enforcement contrasts with how Canadian police handle high stress situations. A couple of days ago, in my own Canadian city, a man was walking through downtown in broad daylight carrying in improvised shotgun. Here’s how my local police force handled what could only be described as a very dangerous situation:
It’s intense stuff, but this is how a trained police force is supposed to react – attempt to diffuse conflict, and use force only as last resort. The video ends with the suspect running away – and from what we know, gunfire was exchanged with the police, and the suspect was shot, but not killed. In the days following that incident, the officers at the scene rightly received praise for their restraint.Contrast how my local law enforcement handled that situation with how police officers in Minnesota handled this situation after pulling a car over in St. Paul with a broken brake light, with two African American passengers:
On the passenger side sat Philando Castile. After being asked to produce his driver’s licence, Castile was shot and fatally wounded while reaching inside his glove box. The officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was eventually charged with manslaughter and brought to trial.
This June, a jury found Yanez not guilty.
And so it goes in America.
The Castile case is not an aberration. Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Akiel Denkins in Raleigh, South Carolina. Freddy Gray of Baltimore. Gregory Gunn of Montgomery, Alabama. Laquan McDonald of Chicago. Walter Scott of North Chraleston, North Carolina. Akai Gurly of New York City. Samuel DuBose of Cincinnati. The list is nearly endless – but all are connected by an important thread: All were black, and all were shot and killed under suspicious circumstances.
While the vast majority of American officers are decent people who do their job with integrity and restraint, a significant minority of police have repeatedly demonstrated the lack of ability to diffuse situations, or in the case of the Castile killing, using a level of force grotesquely out of proportion. The unjustified killing of civilians in the United States is born out of local police forces that are poorly trained, unqualified recruits, many of whom seemingly carry a prejudicial attitude while fulfilling their duties.
That’s the essence of the Kapernick protest – too many people of colour – men, women and children, are being assaulted or killed by people who are supposedly there to protect them. And so while Kapernick, still unemployed, continues to push for equality, his movement now finds itself struggling to overcome Trump’s SOB remarks. Since the President undignified criticism, other NFL players have “joined the movement”, although their protest has become more of a cause célebère for their own personal grievances. The NFL and its owners, predictably and hideously, have also highjacked Kapernick’s sacrifice into its own PR campaign.
It’s a shame. What Kapernick did was important in highlighting yet another example of fundamental inequality and injustice in America. Whether his country is willing to return its focus to the purpose of his protest, or perhaps even better, are willing to look at how law enforcement functions north of their border, is yet to be seen.