At a CNN town hall meeting on Wednesday, President Barack Obama continued to support 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s silent protests against police brutality, with just one caveat: that Kaepernick should listen to his critics’ pain.
First Lt. James Sutter, dressed in uniform, asked the president what his thoughts were on the growing number of NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem, which Sutter felt "should be reserved to respect our service members" rather than "choosing this respected time to voice their opinions."
Obama affirmed Sutter’s concern, while maintaining that Kaepernick and his supporters have a right to free speech — even if not everyone likes what they’re doing.
"I also always try to remind folks that part of what makes this country special is that we respect people’s rights to have a different opinion and to make different decisions about how they want to express their concerns," Obama said.
In a move to bring all sides together and move forward, the president advocated that each side to listen to the other, whether it’s Kaepernick acknowledging the pain of someone whose spouse or child "was killed in combat and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing" or his critics being mindful of "the pain he may be expressing about somebody who's lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot."
Sure, the president’s statement was even-handed, but it ignores the fact that Kaepernick says he has been listening to his critics all along.
When he was originally accused of disrespecting veterans for sitting during the anthem, Kaepernick adjusted to taking a knee as a way to honor America’s service members while also bringing attention to America’s problem with racial inequality and police brutality.
By contrast, critics have found nearly every means to minimize Kaepernick’s concerns about racism and police violence to seem like a non-issue, particularly by means of calling Kaepernick’s protest unpatriotic.
Several veterans have expressed support for Kaepernick, and 35 US veterans published an essay at Medium applauding Kaepernick for exhibiting "no finer form of appreciation for our sacrifice" by exercising his First Amendment right. Still, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) suggested that Kaepernick was "sympathetic to ISIS" simply because his girlfriend is Muslim.
Kaepernick isn’t being attacked because he’s not listening. He’s being attacked because his detractors don’t want to hear him.
"There’s a lot of racism in this country disguised as patriotism," Kaepernick told the Guardian last week, "and people want to take everything back to the flag but that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about racial discrimination, inequalities and injustices that happen across this nation."
At least 2,195 people have been killed by police since Mike Brown was killed by former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson two years ago. A disproportionately high percentage of those killed were black. And despite the high frequency with which officer-involved killings take place, police are rarely indicted for killing civilians, even as more video evidence of those killings becomes available.
Ideally, offering an open ear could help build a bridge on a key issue plaguing America today. But when people are actively ignoring the issue, asking both sides to listen isn’t enough.