By Ed Williams
African Americans fought in the American Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War I and II and all the other conflicts even when they were being treated like second class citizens and denied liberty and justice.
It was an African American Crispus Attucks, who is widely recognized as the first casualty of the Revolutionary War. African Americans do not need to be lectured about the meaning of patriotism, loyalty or when to protest.
Black Americans are twice as likely as white Americans to be unarmed when police kill them. Furthermore, what has to be done to get the point understood that it is not okay for police to abuse and kill African Americans?
Since the creation of the smart phone, it seems there have been more and more cases of police brutality and excessive force incidents caught on video that document the mistreatment by police against African Americans and other minorities. One of the most famous police misconduct videos was the Rodney King video of four Los Angeles, California police who beat him in 1991.
Black males aged 15-34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by law enforcement officers.
The police officers were later found not guilty. It caused outrage in the African-American community. Before video cameras, police would often lie and write false reports.
Police brutality has been historically a problem against African Americans and other minorities. We need to address the problem and not resort to calling citizens unpatriotic. Those who have not had the experience are blind to the outrage and frustration that many African Americans and people of color feel about the unequal treatment. It is not about being right or wrong, left or right. It is about the meaning in the words – liberty and justice for all.
We should engage fellow citizens in conversations about what liberty and justice means and not just recite it. We should make the words in the Pledge of Allegiance ring true for all: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Dr. King stated “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
The Constitution represents our values and beliefs as a nation. We should not spend time trying to restrict rights. Instead, we should spend our time ensuring the rights of all the citizens’ access to equal protection and that police are held accountable when they abuse their authority.
The American Dream, as Dr. King protested in the 1950s and 60s, for many had always been a vision of expanded opportunity to achieve a quality of life, liberty, and justice. Dr. King stated in his last speech in 1968, “… somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.”
If America is going to remain a great nation, then all its citizens should have the right to life, liberty and the justice. Muhammad Ali in the 1960s refused to go to fight in the Vietnam war because of his religious beliefs and the recognition that the people of Vietnam had not done anything to him. He believed that his fight was here in the U.S. for equal rights. He took his fight all the way to the Supreme Court where he won.
Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, understood that the U.S. Constitution was what made American great, not the flag. He understood that being a citizen meant that you had the protection of the Constitution.
Many believe or argue that Colin Kaepernick should not be kneeling in protest to the National Anthem. There are a lot of people who believe that he should use another platform or venue to protest. I believe it is his right, even though I may not agree with his method of protest by kneeling before a game. There are those who believe that Colin Kaepernick is creating a distraction. If so, then the team should consider not having an organized Anthem or Pledge at all.
Kaepernick told NFL.com’s Steve Wyche: “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.”
Anunarmed African American citizen should not expect to be killed for any reason by a police officer during an encounter. There needs to be more police training, better equipment, and punishment for those police officers that violate the public trust and our civil rights. The question we should be asking as a nation is what can we do to stop the problem of police brutality and how long will it take to make a significant difference?
Ed Williams is chair of Concerned Citizens for Effective Governmentt(firstname.lastname@example.org.