Stop Being Angry at People Kneeling, and Start Being Angry at the Actual Problem

I tried writing this a couple weeks ago when Colin Kaepernick kneeling was first becoming the stuff of front page headlines. I decided not to publish it because I thought it would be divisive or confrontational. Now though, video has surfaced of white Tulsa police officers murdering Terence Crutcher — an unarmed, innocent black man.

Yes, today we get yet another name of yet another unarmed, innocent black man murdered by police officers to turn into a hashtag. And suddenly, a post like this feels less divisive and more necessary.

I find it maddeningly unbelievable to watch the reaction of white people to all of this. In my social media feed, my white friends have called Colin Kaepernick a a bum, a traitor, an asshole, and worse. They have mocked him relentlessly and even resurrected the old, trite, “America: Love it or Leave it” trope that I thought we had moved past a decade or so ago.

Here’s why it’s maddening: there is way more outrage from white folks over somebody kneeling to protest cops murdering innocent black men, than there is over cops murdering innocent black men.

And therein lies the problem. As white people, we work our damnedest to explain away the murders of men and boys like Terrence Crutcher, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, and literally hundreds more — because if we don’t, that means we have to come face to face with horrific and ugly truths.

So rather than face those truths, we choose to cover our own guilt and complicity by getting angry at whoever attempts to uncover it again. This time, it happens to be black NFL players kneeling in protest at this gross injustice.

So my question for all of us is simply this: which one makes you more upset? The fact that police are murdering innocent, unarmed black men, or the fact that black men are protesting it? And are you willing to ask yourself the difficult question of why that is?

The artist Lecrae might have put it best when he wrote:

Take a knee, people riot
Take a bullet, people quiet

When Brandon Marshall took a knee to protest this systemic racism still present in America today, people wrote to him saying they hoped he got a concussion, or worse, died.

White people are sending death threats to the families of black football players because the players are protesting racism.

Read that last sentence again and let it sink in: that sentence is not out of a history book describing segregated America in the 50s or 60s. That is describing 2016.

These black athletes are not protesting the military and they are not making any sort of statement regarding the heroic sacrifices our men and women in uniform make — so you can stop putting up that strawman argument. And in the choice of “America: love it or leave it,” where in the world is the third option: love it and want to make it better?

In all reality, we need to learn that there is a massive difference between patriotism and nationalism, and the jingoistic zeal with which NFL players like Kaepernick and Marshall are now attacked are born from the latter rather than the former. And that is blindingly dangerous.

We already lived through a couple centuries in the United States of America where white people told black people to shut up and that their experiences didn’t matter. It’s painful and sickening to see it still happening today.

Here’s why the Black Lives Matter movement is necessary: according to the latest statistics, police officers in the United States shoot and kill unarmed black men at a rate of two per week.

Two. Per. Week.

Let the enormity of that sink in for a moment. And that isn’t counting unarmed black men who are shot and not killed, like Charles Kinsey, the therapy worker who was sitting on the ground with his hands up trying to help his autistic patient when a cop shot him. And that also isn’t counting unarmed black women whom police officers have murdered, like Sandra Bland or Tanisha Anderson, or like the multiple black women police officers have shot and killed who were not only unarmed but literally holding their children in their arms at the time. It also doesn’t count the black men who are armed but who never drew their weapon, totally complied with protocol, and who were still murdered, like Philando Castile.

Two per week, and that’s just starting to scratch the surface.

But white people are shot by cops more often than black people! That’s the main argument white people make whenever anything about Black Lives Matter comes up. The response to that is simple: of course white people are shot more often — we make up 77% of the country! Here’s the problem: African-Americans comprise 12% of the population in America, but are almost 40% of those who are shot and killed by police officers. A black man is between 4 and 6 times more likely to be shot and killed by a police officer than a white man. To make matters worse, fewer than 2% of the police officers involved in the murders of unarmed black men get convicted. In 2015, only 2 out of over a hundred officers who shot and killed unarmed black men got any jail time for it at all. Of those two, one got sentenced to four years and the other got sentenced to just one year — and was allowed to serve his time on weekends.

Terence Cruthcher was a father, on his way home from a Music Appreciation class at his local community college when his car broke down. So this is the situation black Americans face: your car breaks down and you ask the police for help? You could be shot and killed. Parents of black children wonder if their kids will end up like Tamir Rice, playing on the playground before becoming one of the two murders per week at the hands of cops. Black children are taught not to trust police officers, and white people sit back in our comfortable privileged lives and declare that fact to be somehow more awful than the likelihood of that child being profiled, abused, shot, or killed by the police who are supposed to protect them — or the fact that the officers who do so will likely never be punished for it.

This is why Black Lives Matter exists. This is why players like Colin Kaepernick, Brandon Marshall, and others are protesting. This is why, especially now after the murder of Terence Cruthcher, I fully support any athlete and non-athlete who kneels in protest of this systemic racism. This is why we need to be the ones to shut up, so we can listen to their experiences. So we can allow their stories to haunt us. So we can finally enact changes that will end this horrific cycle of racism and violence.

And because some will misinterpret what I’ve written here, let me be as clear as I possibly can: saying black lives matter does not mean blue lives don’t. Standing against racism and inequality and injustice does not mean I am anti-cop. Far from it. Police officers have a dangerous, unpredictable job and they put their own lives on the line every day to protect ours. For that, they more than deserve our gratitude and respect, and I have the utmost of both for the men and women who serve our communities as police officers. It is more than possible to fully agree with that and also fully demand accountability for the lives of people like Terence Cruthcher, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, and the hundreds of other unarmed black men murdered by police officers — and to fully demand that changes be made to the system to prevent tragedies like this from continuing to happen in the future.