San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick isn’t mincing words about the underlying message behind the backlash to his protests against police brutality.
“There’s a lot of racism in this country disguised as patriotism,” Kaepernick told the Guardian on Tuesday, “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.”
Kaepernick’s detractors have come up with a variety of ways to characterize the NFL player’s silent protests as a betrayal of his country. Kaepernick initially came under fire for disrespecting the military by sitting during the national anthem at the 49ers preseason game against the Green Bay Packers three weeks ago. In response, he changed his protest gesture to taking a knee, which others have done in solidarity. Last week, Rep. Scott King (R-IA) implied that Kaepernick is “sympathetic to ISIS” simply because he has a Muslim girlfriend.
But the latest string of police shootings of African Americans this week alone only make Kaepernick’s case.
Video was released Tuesday of a Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer shooting 40-year-old Terence Crutcher. Crutcher was unarmed when officers spotted him with a stalled car. Footage shows his hands were up, at least until the final moments before lead officer Betty Shelby opened fire.
“His car was broken down, he was looking for help and he got murdered,” Kaepernick told the Guardian. “That’s a perfect example of what this is about. I think it will be very telling what happens with the officers that killed him because everybody’s eyes will be on this.”
Just one day after footage of Crutcher was released, protests erupted in Charlotte, North Carolina, in response to news that law enforcement had shot and killed another black person: 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott.
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.
These incidents aren’t isolated; they’re systemic. And while patriotism is an easy way to deflect from addressing America’s problem with police brutality, racial injustice is difficult to deny as more black American civilians are killed by police.