Opinion: Remember Colin Kaepernick’s warnings about the police as we celebrate Martin Luther King
Years before rioters stormed the Capitol, a crowd that allegedly included cops, Colin Kaepernick spoke of, no, he warned of the abuse of power by police.
Kaepernick wasn't the first to ring those alarms, but he was among the highest profile, using his platform as an NFL quarterback to issue a series of cautions that look prescient now.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color," he said in 2016. "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.”
What's often forgotten about Kaepernick's message was his belief that police had far too much power over Black and brown lives, but also, too much power in general, and because there was a strain of white nationalism among some police, this made them even potentially more dangerous.
As we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., it's important to remember that Kaepernick, like King, warned us for years about the dangers of police abuse.
This is especially important in light of how 13 off-duty police officers, according to the Washington Post, were part of the rioters that stormed the Capitol. According to NPR, the number of sworn police officers was actually 30.
To Kaepernick, some police have always been part of a mob, and the distance between those mobs, and the lawlessness of sacking one of the beacons of democracy, isn't miles. It's inches.
"The white supremacist institution of policing that stole Breonna Taylor's life from us must be abolished for the safety and well being of our people," he tweeted after a grand jury failed to bring criminal charges against the police officers who shot Taylor dead.
"Essentially, the storming of the Capitol was an insurrection to uphold white supremacy," wrote Vox. "And sustaining and propping up white supremacy have long been part of police officers’ jobs."
To King, police were the enforcement arm of segregation, the hammer poised to strike.
"I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations," King said in his 1963 I Have A Dream Speech. "Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering."
If some police are willing to abuse the rights of one group of people, it's only a matter of time before those same police start attacking others. Or even start attacking democracy.
Washington Post reporter Carol D. Leonnig, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, said during an interview on MSNBC that police defending the Capitol were stunned to see that attackers they believed were off-duty cops were taking part in the riots.
Thus if a police officer takes part in a riot against a fortified building full of lawmakers, what would that same cop do to a Black man at a traffic stop?
When Kaepernick started protesting, he warned about the umbilical connection between some police and extreme violence.
“I couldn’t see another ‘hashtag Sandra Bland, hashtag Tamir Rice, hashtag Walter Scott, hashtag Eric Garner,’ the list goes on and on and on. … At what point do we do something about it?" Kaepernick asked. "At what point do we take a stand and as a people say this isn’t right? You have a badge, yes. You’re supposed to be protecting us, not murdering us, and that’s what the issue really is and we need to change that.”
To be clear, Kaepernick isn't saying all police are violent.
Also, if you don't think the threads between Kaepernick and King are real, you're wrong. While King is popular now, two-thirds of Americans disapproved of King. Many hated his blunt words on race, policing and desegregation. The same is the case with some and Kaepernick and it's not unthinkable to see a future where Kaepernick is revered as a civil rights hero. In fact, that transformation is already happening (and he's long been viewed this way by most Black people).
It's also far from a stretch to say that King would have approved of Kaepernick's tactics and methods. King publicly supported Tommie Smith and John Carlos after they raised their fists during the 1968 Olympics. Smith and Carlos were vilified by many Americans and much of the media, including Brent Musburger who called them "black-skinned stormtroopers."
King called Jackie Robinson, who broke the color line in 1947, "a pilgrim that walked in the lonesome byways toward the high road of freedom. He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides."
Kaepernick has spent years speaking of police abuse. Like King, he was right.
In fact, he may have been righter than we ever knew.
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