Colin Kaepernick: Legal, Patriotic :Powerful Tradition to Sit
In April, 1992, after being caught on video beating the dog-mess out of Black motorist Rodney King, four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted of crimes by a jury consisting of ten white and two Asian jurors. Hell breaks-out in L.A., eventually 50 people killed!
I was a high school history teacher at the time…It was hard, difficult reporting to work the morning after the verdict was announced, the atmosphere on campus was pregnant with hostility, ugliness and fear.; student violence between Black and white wasn't if, but when. Teachers in the staff lounge avoiding pleasantries, zero eye contact.
In my first period class, the students that showed-up, sit in an eerie silence, the silence only broken with the by the inter-com announcement, “Please stand for the pledge of allegiance”. None of the Black students stood, and the few white students who started to stand, timidly sat back down. Again there was just silence until a student spoke in a stern voice, “I ain’t saluting that damn flag, they ain’t no justice for Black people!”
A few days later, I was called to the principal’s office, where he was joined by an Asst. Supt of Employee Relations, (the guy that terminates teachers), and he shows up to intimidate. I had been accused by several 'anonymous' parents of not requiring my class to salute the flag and engaging in an unpatriotic protest, maybe grounds for dismissal. I explained, “I would have led them in sittin', but I hadn’t thought of it, the students acted on their own.” I wasn’t in trouble, the district was in trouble if they tried to mess with me on this one! I was justly confident because I was enrolled in an evening Education Law class at the University and the court case I chose to write my term paper on was:
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 14, 1943, that compelling children in public schools to salute the U.S. flag was an unconstitutional violation of their freedom of speech and religion.
After explaining this Court decision to the supt, he made a call to the district to converse with someone more knowledgeable then him or the principal, he quickly disappeared and I went back to my class without ever hearing another word on the matter.
Some 70 years ago in 1943, in the middle of WWII when paranoid patriotism was rampaging, the Jehovah Wittiness won this court victory for everyone and everyone’s child, JW’s children could not be forced to salute whatever creature the government has deemed reverent or patriotic. The majority 6-3 Supreme Court decision continues;
“…“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” …
The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections..."
To be clear, not the government or its creatures, not the NFL, the NBA, MLB has the right to make something reverent. If you attend a sporting event and the P.A. says “Please stand for the national anthem”, you can remain seated, your choice! If PA says "Place your right hand over your heart", you can ignore it if you choose. If the P.A. says, "remove your hat", you can leave it on. If the P.A. says “And sing along”, yeah right! You have a constitutional right not to participate in rituals created by politicians.
Not only does Colin Kaepernick have the law on his side, he has the powerful tradition of Black Athletes willing to accept the consequences of protesting, athletes upon which shoulders he stands, Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith in the 1968 Olympics, Jackie Robinson stating that, "I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a black man in a white world."
It’s a powerful statement when someone exercises their right to protest by sitting-down, so the many of us can stand tall.