Why We Kneel: Solidarity with Kaepernick

Robert Fidler • 1 October 2017
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White supremacist Brian Pannebecker, a follower of former Klansmen David Duke, supporter of Trump and anti-union activist, is attempting to launch an October 8th boycott of the Detroit Lions at Ford Field for respecting the players' right to kneel in protest of racial injustice in the United States. 

“I’m going to organize a protest at Ford Field at the Lions next home game to encourage a fan boycott in response to the millionaire players and billionaire owners who show disrespect towards patriotic fans and our National Anthem and flag.” Stated Pannebecker, whose last major attempt at organizing was a Trump campaign rally where auto companies paid their workers to attend. He's hoping to have picketers stationed at every gate of the stadium.

Meanwhile, the Metro-Detroit Political Action Network will stand, and kneel, in support of the protest of police brutality and racial inequality to counter Pannebecker's dubious views of patriotism. Between noon and 1 PM on the 8th, MDPAN will be marching between Gates D and B, defending the right for people of color to speak out against their oppression. There will also be a cookout in Lot 5, just north of the marching site on the corner of Montcalm and Brush, between 10 AM and 11:30 AM and a tailgate gathering post-march to enjoy the game. 

Ford Field Map

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color...There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." Said Colin Kaepernick, in August of 2016 on why he chose to sit during the national anthem, sparking the controversial protest. He later changed his means of protest to a kneel. In sports, that signifies a respectful reaction by both teams to an injured player. In the realm of politics, it represents the wounded fabric of a country that allows killing of unarmed black people such as Philandro Castille, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner without significant consequence for the law enforcement officers who perpetrate it. 

While only joined by a handful of players last year, such as Kaepernick's San Francisco 49ers teammates Eric Reid and Eli Harrold, or Denver Broncos Linebacker Brandon Marshall, the movement has steadily gained steam going into this season. It includes star players like the Seattle Seahawks' Michael Bennett, himself a victim of police brutality, and Detroit Lions: Ameer Abdullah, Tahir Whitehead, A'Shawn Robinson, Cornelius Washington, Akeem Spence, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Steve Longa and Jalen Reeves-Maybin.

Lions kneel.
Photo credit: WGVU

The protest is not without its detractors. Last year, Sheriff's Departments in Miami and San Francisco threatened to remove police security presence from football games until team owners forced players to conduct themselves in a manner they deemed "respectful" for the anthem. Oft-cited by those in opposition to the protest is that taking a knee disrespects the flag or soldiers who sacrificed for the country. At no point has that been a component of the protest, based on Kaepernick's statements remaining focused on calling out police brutality and a long history of racial injustice. Others consider the televised national anthem before an NFL game to be an inappropriate time to protest, despite the league requiring players to take the field for the song is a recent, 2009 development.

On Friday, September 22nd, the current occupant of the oval office put the protesters on blast. Trump described them as "sons of bitches" and demanded owners fire players who do not stand for the anthem. These words are a harsh condemnation, one Trump elected not to muster in the wake of Neo-Nazis murdering Heather Heyer and savagely beating DeAndre Harris in Charlottesville. NFL ownership responded with a mixture of tepid support for the players. Occasionally, owners such as Jerry Richardson, would threatened potential punishment for players who "politicize" the game. Oddly, despite Richardson's staunch commitment to separating politics and the NFL, the Carolina Panthers owner has yet to object to the League's use of military fighter flyovers before the start of games. 

The following weekend, NFL ownership and players stood united, at least against Trump's comments. Often standing (and kneeling) with linked arms before or during the anthem, other teams elected not to leave the locker room until it's conclusion. Such an action created mixed responses, with former player Shannon Sharpe offering this criticism: "What are we uniting against? What are we standing for now? If that is what it took, what he said [calling players "sons of bitches"], if that's what shocked your conscience. If that made you choose to unite, so be it. But there's a bigger issue, and the issue is the racism, and the injustices, in America, in which Colin Kaepernick took a knee for in the beginning. And only Martellus, and Michael Bennet, and Malcolm Jenkins, and a handful still understand what the issues are."

Kaepernick and Bennett
Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett. Photo credit: USA Today/Getty Images

MDPAN echoes the sentiments of Sharpe, the real issues here are racism and injustice and will form the core component of next Sunday's protest. For those that consider the protest disrespectful of the flag, the activist group would point to sections of the US Flag Code that forbid it's use in advertising, clothing, and being held horizontally (like the field wide flags during pregame national anthems). MDPAN would also encourage those concerned about the sanctity of the flag to aggressively pursue individuals emblazoning the traitorous slaver banner of the Confederacy on their clothing, vehicles and homes. 

For detractors that consider kneeling during the anthem an inappropriate time for protest, words from Dr. King will serve best in response, written from a Birmingham jail in 1963: "I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say 'wait'... when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society...when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of 'nobodyness'--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait."

MLK Kneeling.
Photo credit: Global News