In 2016, Colin Kaepernick, former pro football quarterback, took a knee for the first time during the singing of the national anthem. For the uninformed, taking a knee is kneeling on one knee with the other knee bent and often seen as a support for an arm holding a bent torso. He said he did it in protest of police killings of black men. He did it again in 2017 and was criticized as being “unpatriotic” by no less than the President of the United States. The president went so far as to tell team owners to fire the “sons of bitches” that took a knee during the anthem.
And so Kaepernick lost his job and his sponsors.
“Taking a knee” receded as a symbol of black oppression as if on hiatus until the time when it would be needed again. That time came during the pandemic with reports of black men or women being killed by police for minor or no offenses and by “vigilantes” for no offense greater than strolling through an open construction site. The latter not charged for nearly three months.
The final horribly ironic trigger made so by a bystander who videotaped the killing of a black man by a police officer holding his knee on the back of the man’s neck while the man lay stomach side down on the street, his hands cuffed behind his back and three other police officers either standing over him or holding his body down.
Millions of people have watched that tape and the life leaving the body of George Floyd. The terrible irony of an officer “taking a knee” on his neck is not lost on most of us. Neither is the casual expression and hand in pocket posture of the officer who listened to the pleas of Mr. Floyd.
The officer will be forever known as the face that launched thousands of demonstrations worldwide protesting police brutality and killing of black men and women. It was the final insult or match that lit the outrage buried for centuries for some.
The outrage was greater than the threat of the pandemic that has defined our lives for the last 3 to 4 months. Forget limiting gathering to about 5 people, more if relatives. Thousands of people were gathering, some masked, some not.
So here we are tempting the amoral, apolitical highly contagious and potentially deadly virus because our passion is far greater than our fear of the virus, at least in this moment.
This moment in time is confused, scary, divisive, sad and messy. Seems to me we should getting down on our knees and praying we can get ourselves out of this chaos.
Law, order, justice, equality
Prayer may be the only thing that will get us out of the mess made worse by our failure to listen and communicate with each other. That and that we seem unable to hold two thoughts in our heads and hearts at the same time.
We can abhor looters and want the police to stop them. At the same time, we can support peaceful demonstrators and want them to have freedom to gather and speak. We can value police that are professional in their work.
At the same time, we can be outraged at the tortured death of George Floyd at the knee of police officer who most police will agree should not have been allowed to be a police officer.
Law and order, justice and equality are not opposites. They are values embedded in our constitution although not always expressed in policies. We do not have to and should not choose one over the other.
Yet, we have politicians, organizations and individuals who are pitting police and ordinary people against each other. Our president speaks to law and order and using the military to “dominate” the streets. He does not speak to assuring justice and equality under the law. Perhaps he speaks for the extreme right like the congressman who speaks for the extreme left in calling for the “abolishment of police departments.”
Like the president, they do not reach out to the other imperative, in this case law and order. Nothing about either does anything to advance justice and peace.
Talking to the good cop
I turned to my cherished niece who was a police officer in a large urban police force and currently teaches law enforcement in high school and community college to help me understand how this is for her and the police profession. I also ask her what she thinks should be done.
She tells me there is a saying, “No one hates BAD cops more than GOOD cops!” She sees “Black Lives Matter” as a good movement in general but marred by protesters demonizing all police with profane and hate-filled language.
Not that she hasn’t heard it before in her role as a police officer and subjected to being called racist when she stopped a driver for speeding and ugly names by men being arrested for partner-abuse because she is a female cop.
She points out that people make heroes of police who run toward burning towers and shooters in Las Vegas, schools, churches, synagogues and community festivals. She knows people need police who are good at what they do.
Her solution is to bring the community into the process of change: “I think the real need here is that the PUBLIC needs to get INVOLVED to make changes. Protests are a good start, but real work needs to be done. People need to quit blaming others and get to work to fix real and perceived problems in law enforcement and the justice system at large.”
She has former students, now in law enforcement, who believe in the system and want to help society. She says, “They are making a difference, yet, they are being yelled at, fought with and called names. Why?”
She concludes with, “Change needs to happen, but it is not only law enforcement’s burden, it is ALL of society who must take on this challenge.”
She, her former students and current students, are the true hope and what can bring us up off our knees and working toward a solution that fits our nation today. We can get our heads and hearts around a common vision that includes law, order, justice and equality. We can get our heart and head around finding solutions instead of placing blame.
Real work, not pretend work, needs to be done. You in?
Bertha Cooper, featured columnist in the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation. Cooper’s book “Women, We’re Only Old Once” is due out this summer. Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim more than 20 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.