Kaepernick, free speech, and the political movement

colinBy Angela Vega

Melinda Holt, sat in the stands of an Aurora Central High School football game in frustration as the school’s varsity choir belted out the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner, according to the New York Times. One by one, the players dropped to their knees in protest.

“We know what we’re doing; we made a conscious decision. We see police do us wrong, and we’ve always seen this,” Jalil Grimes, told critics of the football team’s protest, according to the New York Times.

On the other side of the field, Americans young and old denounced these protests. In anger, viewers openly expressed their disappointment.

“It’s ignorance. You are dishonoring our flag for the actions of a few,” Holt said to the New York Times.

Weeks after San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, took a knee in protest against racial injustice and police brutality in the black community, high school football fields became a new stage for America’s outcry for justice. After Kaepernick confirmed his plans of continuing his peaceful protest for the rest of the National Football League (NFL) season, Americans stood in the stands and watched with their fists raised in the air; half of them in support of Kaepernick, the rest condemning him.

Many interpreted Kaepernick’s actions as disrespectful and unpatriotic with the media quick to portray the quarterback as anti-American and anti-military.

“I was very disgusted and disappointed. It hurt. I believe in the flag. I believe in the United States of America,” Navy veteran, Veronica Mora, told CNN.

Arguably, being patriotic in 21st century America is much more than just pledging allegiance to a flag every morning, singing the national anthem before the kick-off of a game, or celebrating the Fourth of July every summer. Patriotism is working to ensure that the basic fundamentals of American equality are carried onto our streets and institutions.

It is ensuring that people of all ethnicities, genders, and political views hold the same equal rights and opportunities as established in our Constitution; freedom of speech being one of those fundamental rights.

However, there are various ironies in the ways we demonstrate our freedoms. We are quick to brag about the numerous freedoms we hold as Americans, but as soon as someone uses their freedom of speech to express distaste with government’s lack of action, we paint them as unpatriotic, anti-American, and disrespectful.

“There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust. People just aren’t being held accountable. And that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for — freedom, liberty, justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now,” Kaepernick explained in an interview with NFL Media.

In the end, what should terrify Americans the most is not Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem, but that half a century later, there is still a need to call for attention of the same racial inequalities America experienced back in the sixties. John Carlos and Tommie Smith, black medalists in the 1968 Olympics, protested from their medal podiums the same issues Kaepernick protests today.

Like Kaepernick, athletes are making political statements in response to injustices committed against their communities. With his simple protest, Kaepernick forced the public to take a look at the current state of America and our black communities.

“I get that he can do whatever he wants. But there’s a time and a place,” former 49er, Alex Boone, told USA Today.

But what Boone fails to recognize is that the time for protest is now. The dehumanization of black bodies continues even today. The failure in fixing this problem is, in the end, what is truly most horrifying.

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