Pledging allegiance to a flag

As a government employee, I feel like reciting the daily pledge of allegiance at my school is part of my job description, but it wasn’t always that way. My high school only did the pledge over the announcements once, about a week after 9/11, at the request of some patriotic students, and I, like most students, scoffed and didn’t join in.

This got mixed in during one conversation with some coworkers with the national anthem protest in the NFL that Colin Kaepernick started. They seemed to take pledging one’s allegiance as an matter of course. No wonder Mr. Kaepernick’s protest strikes them the wrong way. I’m writing this to express why Mr. Kaepernick’s protest strikes me as fitting, and why refusing to pledge allegiance is entirely acceptable to me.

Minorities and American History

Should Native Americans have to pledge allegiance unconditionally to a country which repeatedly broke treaties signed with their ancestors? Look at what almost happened just this month. What do they owe a country which whitewashes its crimes against them out of history?

Should Japanese-Americans have to pledge allegiance unconditionally to a country which locked them all up as an afterthought during WWII?

Should African Americans have to pledge allegiance unconditionally to a country which treated them as property for 80 years, then treated them as second class citizens for 100 more, and still today does not accept that despite overt reforms, there is still a cultural bias against them that endangers their lives disproportionately in interactions both with police and with the justice system as a whole? Let us not forget that US authorities stood aside while the Klu Klux Klan terrorized the black community out of exercising their rights. Let us not forget that US authorities imposed absurd double standards to prevent African Americans from voting. (And now in Charlotte NC, there’s been another killing and the police won’t release the video which implies that the killing was flagrantly wrong.)

This isn’t a new problem. It’s just that it hasn’t been so visible before to non-blacks.

Should any minority or group that feels persecuted (or feels the threat of future persecution) have to pledge allegiance to a country with such a spotty record? If the right wing’s nightmare were to come true and white people were to become persecuted here in this country, what allegiance would they owe this country?

(On a wholly different tack, should Jews have had to pledge allegiance to Germany in the 1930s? Sunnis to Assad’s discriminatory regime in Syria?)

No country deserves unconditional allegiance

That is the essence of Mr. Kaepernick’s protest. By sitting out the anthem, he is saying that the country does not currently deserve his allegiance. His reasoning? That he sees it mistreating its own citizens, specifically those of his race. Mr. Kaepernick isn’t rioting. He isn’t toting a gun and saying that he has a right to it to protect himself from the government (including the police) as many second amendment activists claim. He’s just trying to use his fame to draw attention to something the country needs to work on before he feels like it deserves his unquestioning allegiance again.

The purpose of such protests

To draw attention to what this country is doing wrong. The goal is to get most people to understand that a problem exists (not easy) so that we can move from arguing over whether there is a problem to considering possible solutions. The goal of doing it publically is to force people to think about the problem rather than ignore it. As always, the protest is meeting with mixed results because it’s hard to get people to think about something they’d rather not think about or care about.

My opinion

I come from a family still scarred by the holocaust, so my position on this issue is a no-brainer: implicit racism is a central fact of my life, and the country should acknowledge that it exists and look for ways to prevent that implicit racism from leading to wrongful deaths of certain groups of citizens again and again.

I look at people who don’t understand Kaepernick and I see people who don’t understand what being mistreated by one’s government is like. I won’t blame them for their opinions, but I will try to explain to them what they’re missing.

I would ask them to consider how they’d feel about the country if people like them from their community kept getting shot in the street by officers of their own government. Not to mention periodic mistreatment. And then imagine that a large portion of the government and political class denied that this was going on.

If they still can’t understand, it’s because I’ve failed to communicate what I’ve known since the age of 7: that a perfectly fine country can turn around and decide to murder groups of its own people because of made-up reasons within just a few years, and that hate simmers under the surface here and there. (No wonder that in high school and even now I view the whole idea of the pledge skeptically.)

If someone wants to refuse to pledge unconditional allegiance or to otherwise protest this country’s actions to draw attention to a real problem that they are experiencing or want dealt with, I am all for them doing that.

P.S. Specific recommendation: our police are being mis-trained

Consider this training video (5 minutes), shown to me by someone trying to make the opposite argument from mine. Why does scenario 1 exist?!? If it and scenarios like it weren’t part of trainings, officers would probably be significantly less trigger-happy. Is it a common situation? No. There have been only 52 cop deaths nationally by guns per year on average this decade (that’s a 100+ year low, and please note that both sources I quote here are right leaning sources) in the past decade, and I doubt very much that scenario 1 is much like the actual situations our cops encounter. Its’ presence in training regimens opens cops’ minds early in training… to shooting first when feeling suspicious.

And there’s plenty of evidence that due to implicit biases, members of minority groups are most likely to be viewed as suspicious.

In England, cops don’t typically carry guns. I’m not going so far as to recommend that we disarm ours, but I would recommend that their training make it clear that they’re to use their side arms only as weapons of last resort.

My point is that I don’t think that Betty Shelby is the only one at fault for Terence Crutcher’s death. Good people do bad things when the system is set up to put them in bad positions.

P.P.S. Police relations

The goal is to get to a place where people trust the police, because the police deserve that trust. It’s easy for someone like me to have faith in the police because they’ve always given me the benefit of the doubt. But there are whole communities of lawful citizens where the police (and by extension our government and nation) haven’t earned that trust.

How do we get there? By having police departments show good faith and act like they’re on their community’s side, dedicated to fixing any perceived problems. Not releasing footage of the Charlotte shooting is exactly the sort of thing that makes communities lose faith in their police.

Compare that department’s actions (hiding the video) and the results (riots) with that of Tulsa’s department (showing the video and prosecuting the cop) and the results (peacefulness).

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