Like Colin Kaepernick, I Might Sit Down Too

 I've stood out of respect for this country that has raised me.  I've stood, too, out of fear of standing out and apart.  But there's always a tug at my conscience, a hesitation.  I hear and feel the masses confined unjustly in American jails and prisons.  I see Eric Garner and Alton Sterling and Tamir Rice.  
News broke late Friday night that San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat while the national anthem played at Levi's Stadium before a preseason game against the Packers.  When asked why he didn't stand, Kaepernick initially said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color…To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”  He further noted, “This is not something that I am going to run by anybody… I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

Pressed further on Sunday, Kaepernick gave more expansive comments and explanations about his gesture and stance, including, “I'll continue to sit. I'm going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me this is something that has to change. When there's significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it's supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it's supposed to, I'll stand.”

Some thoughts:

1) I love the United States. I don't like travelling outside the US because I like my street signs in English, prefer using the dollar and need my American TV channels. For me, there isn't much better (or more American) than eating cotton candy and sunflower seeds while taking in a day baseball game.  My Muslim parents immigrated here from India and found great opportunity and success. Tremendous public schools from high school into college and then law school educated and nourished me. I'm a proud government employee that serves as a public defender to protect and preserve our nuanced constitution and the expansive rights it affords us.

That said, this country has an ugly underbelly that I deplore. The “land of the free” locks up more people, on average, than any other country in the world.  According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 2,220,300 adults were caged in US federal and state prisons and county jails in 2013 – about 0.91% of adults (1 in 110). Additionally, 4,751,400 adults in 2013 (1 in 51) were on probation or on parole. These numbers don't necessarily capture or represent the countless sentenced to excessive and unreasonable custodial stints for the non-violent, non-serious crimes they commit.   Land of the free?  The land of the incarcerated.

Poor people accused of and arrested for crimes rot in county jails without a conviction pending adjudication of their cases because they cannot afford unreasonable and excessive bail amounts.

Black and brown males suffer daily indignity at the hands of police in the form of harassing stops and excessive force.  In 2015 alone, police officers across this country shot and killed 986 people.  This number doesn't account for when police unlawfully stop, beat and shoot community members only to have the DA turn around and charge those victims with resisting or assaulting the very officers who degrade them.  Nor does this number capture the incessant racial profiling, unreasonable searches and unnecessary contacts inflicted by police on minority communities across his country.

This list can go on and on about how this nation continues to oppress its people in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways.  It's because of this ugly underbelly that I've always grappled with standing for the national anthem when it plays at the Cal, 49ers, Warriors and A's games I attend.  I've stood out of respect for this country that has raised me.  I've stood, too, out of fear of standing out and apart.  But there's always a tug at my conscience, a hesitation.  I hear and feel the masses confined unjustly in American jails and prisons.  I see Eric Garner and Alton Sterling and Tamir Rice.  So I've stood but haven't sung the anthem along with the crowd or put my hand across my heart.  It's been my way of honoring but not forgiving this country.  I'm grateful to Colin Kaepernick for putting a voice to my ongoing dilemma.  Perhaps now, emboldened by him, I might sit down, too.

I say might because I'm still torn.  Kaepernick's choice to sit is divisive.  Although I support and admire his action, his means inflame and repel many. Solutions to the very real problems he eloquently and thoughtfully exposes may require a more inclusive and inviting approach.  

2) Not everyone's experience of America is the same.  Not everyone is basking in American freedoms and liberties.  Not everyone wakes up to an America that dignifies and honors their existence.  Instead, many in this country, often black and brown, live an America marked by degradation and dehumanization.  They exist in an America littered with underfunded and dilapidated schools.  They operate in an America tattered by police brutality and harassment.  They endure an America marred and scarred by the machine of mass incarceration.  Colin Kaepernick sat down for those that don't experience the “dawn's early light” of America but instead experience American darkness.  

3) Colin Kaepernick didn't ask for the attention.  He didn't call a press conference or put out a statement.  He quietly sat down during the playing of the anthem, following his moral compass, hidden from view as much as you can be in an NFL stadium.   The attention was thrust upon him.  When the media fury and avalanche came down, he was ready with a well-reasoned, intelligent, expansive explanation for his taking a stand by sitting down.  A silent protest followed by resounding reasoning.  

4) I admire and respect Kaepernick's courage and willingness to sacrifice.  Here he is, on the brink of backup duty and on the fringe of making an NFL roster.  Little to no job security.  No guarantee of any next contract.  His livelihood in the crosshairs.  A more cautious man, under similar circumstances, would figuratively and literally stand in line.  Instead, Kaepernick put his career and endorsements at risk to  give a voice to the voiceless and attempt, in his own way, to effectuate change.  He exhibits the same qualities that we celebrated Muhammad Ali for and should, like Ali, be applauded, not condemned.  

5)  I need to get me one of those Malcolm X hats.