In the weeks since NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a stand against racism and police brutality by not standing for the national anthem, racists have attacked him on social media, police have threatened not to protect him and he has received numerous death threats.
Despite his peaceful protests against state-sanctioned violence perpetrated on African-Americans, there has been a wave of just that all across America.
Police have killed at least 67 people, including 16 African-Americans, since Kaepernick first sat during the anthem in late August. Among them is Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man who was shot down last Friday with his hands up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The following day police killed another black man, Keith Lamont Scott, this time in Charlotte, North Carolina, under questionable circumstances. In that case police said the man was armed with a gun, while his family and local leaders said he was armed only with a book as he waited to pick up his school age son from a bus stop.
Just last week Tyree King, a 13-year-old boy carrying a BB gun was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio. A forensic pathologist hired by the family said the boy was likely shot while trying to run away.
This latest spate of gun violence by police may very well bolster Kaepernick’s thesis that law enforcement is hostile and routinely deadly for African-Americans, and that the treatment is rooted in deep-seated racism that society has not only failed to reckon with, but enabled.
If the death threats against Kaepernick are carried out, the quarterback said, “You’ve proven my point.”
“It'll be loud and clear for everyone why it happened, and that would move this movement forward at a greater speed than what it is even now,” Kaepernick told the Bay Area News Group. “Granted, it’s not how I want it to happen, but that’s the realization of what could happen. I knew there were other things that came along with this when I first stood up and spoke about it. It’s not something I haven’t thought about.”
Now that the NFL regular season has begun, Kaepernick’s protest has evolved from him sitting to taking a knee during the playing of the anthem. It has grown to include Kaepernick’s San Francisco 49ers teammates as well as players on other teams, with some raising fists during the pre-game ritual. Youth, high school and college football players across the country have also joined in silent protest during games, in what some analysts have called “the Kaepernick effect.” Athletes in other sports, including women’s professional basketball and soccer, have also been moved to join the protest in solidarity with the backup quarterback.
“With what’s going on, I’d rather see him take a knee than stand up, put his hands up and get murdered,” recently retired NFL star Marshawn Lynch said on “Conan” Tuesday. “My take on it is [expletive], they got to start somewhere. I just hope people open up their eyes and see that there’s really a problem going on and something needs to be done for it to stop."
Echoing Lynch, his former teammate, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman addressed police killings for two straight minutes Wednesday without taking a single question from reporters:
“More guys have gotten shot and killed in the middle of the street. And more videos have come out of guys getting killed, and I think people are still missing the point,” Sherman said. “I do a lot of community service. I go out there and try to help kids and try to encourage them to be better and to aspire to more. And when you tell a kid, ‘When you’re dealing with police, just put your hands up and comply with everything.’ And there’s still a chance of them getting shot and no repercussions for anyone, that’s an unfortunate time to be living.
"Something needs to be done," he continued. "And so when a guy takes a knee, you can ignore it. You can say, ‘He’s not being patriotic, he’s not honoring the flag.’ I’m doing none of those things. I’m saying — straight up — this is wrong, and we need to do something.”
Perhaps no clearer through line has connected with Kaepernick’s cause and resonated with those who support his call for an end to police killings and a robust conversation around race relations than the continued killings of unarmed black people.
Shortly after Crutcher’s death late last week, police released video of the shooting captured by dascham and helicopter recordings. In the video you see Crutcher walking slowly toward his stalled vehicle, his hands raised high. A group of officers trail him, and then: bang. The father of four falls to the ground, a crimson wave washing through his white T-shirt.
“They shot and killed a man and walked around like it wasn’t a human being,” Kaepernick said. “People are being killed and not even being treated as human beings. No one went and checked on him. No one tried to resuscitate him. Nothing. They walked around, went about their business and made up lies to cover up the murder they just committed. That’s not right, and they should be in prison for that.”
The night Keith Scott was killed in Charlotte, protests devolved into mayhem. Rocks were hurled at police, injuring more than a dozen of them. A highway was shut down and a truck was broken into, emptied and its contents set on fire.
“We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired,” one community leader said on Wednesday, adding that he could not in good conscience tell young people not to protest Scott’s killing.
So far this year police have killed 25 people in North Carolina, including six in Charlotte.
Across the country police have killed 706 people in 2016, according to a Washington Post analysis. That’s one person killed every 12 hours of every single day so far this year. Nearly 25 percent of those killed, 173, have been black.
On Sunday, Kaepernick’s 49ers will play the Seattle Seahawks. Before the game he’ll likely drop to his knee during the anthem to protest police killings, and somewhere in America there’s a good chance an officer, that day or the next, will add to America's body count.