Propaganda fueled by controversy can be a most effective weapon to control national dialogue on any issue, from elections to legislation, military operations to gun control — but sometimes, as in the ire over Colin Kaepernick’s call to end police brutality, rhetoric and propaganda backfire. Miserably.
When San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick rode the bench during the national anthem just over a week ago to protest endemic racism and violent policing, mainstream media pundits and police unions lost their collective minds — fans even set his jersey ablaze in YouTube videos.
But as swiftly as political and police talking heads chastised the athlete for being un-American, a formidable backlash ensued — notably joined by military service members under the hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick — because, after all, what could be more ‘American’ than freely expressing a controversial point of view.
Police violence and racism might not be comfortable, palatable topics for a drastically polarized nation to confront — as evidenced by a dearth in necessary reform on the use of force — but they nonetheless constitute an epidemic in the United States. And Kaepernick — aware of his vast public platform as a professional athlete — aptly surmised the peaceful protest against the incidentally pro-slavery national anthem would call attention to the cause.
In a shameless attempt to disavow said epidemic and opportune public outrage for pro-police propaganda, the Santa Clara Police Officers Association — Santa Clara Police being responsible for security at 49ers games — issued a scathing ultimatum published by NBC Bay Area Friday night, threatening 49ers CEO Jed York to effectively silence Kaepernick or face an officer walk-out.
“Our membership acknowledges that police officers are human and are not perfect,” the union letter stated. “However, blanket statements that police officers in general, murder minorities is completely false and insulting to the dedicated men and women in law enforcement agencies across America.
“These intentional acts and inflammatory statements by Mr. Kaepernick are insulting to the members of SCPOA. It is apparent, that the 49ers organization is aware of Mr. Kaepernick’s actions. These actions have occurred while Mr. Kaepernick was acting as an employee of the 49ers and at 49er facilities in Santa Clara. The 49ers organization has taken no action to stop or prevent Mr. Kaepernick from continuing to make inaccurate, incorrect and inflammatory statements against police officers, which include members of the Santa Clara Police Officers Association.”
Police, media, and the perpetually offended around the country naturally heralded the union’s threat — again ignoring both the issue that brought Kaepernick to sideline the national song and the parallel topic of free speech.
In the less noisy background, however, the tide had already turned.
Former Bay Area reporter Mike Rosenberg, who keeps tabs on the San Francisco team from his new location in Seattle, noticed something startling on Saturday: sales of Kaepernick’s jersey shot from 20th to number one in just two weeks — despite the player’s virtual crucifixion by police, media, and an irate public.
Clearly, a much less rowdy but sizeable sect grasps the oh-so American foundational concept of freedom better than their boisterous counterparts.
If a top-selling Kaepernick jersey weren’t telling enough of people’s refusal to fall for pro-police, ignore-police-brutality propaganda, the Santa Clara police chief, himself, denounced his union’s call for the 49ers to “take action” against the athlete — despite his admitting he was “saddened and angered.”
“I will urge the [Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association] leadership to put the safety of our citizens first,” Chief Michael Sellers wrote in a statement. “I will work with both sides to find a solution. In the meantime, I will ensure we continue to provide a safe environment at Levi’s Stadium.”
Similar to some military veterans who spoke in support of Kaepernick’s right to protest, Sellers emphasized that although he found the player’s actions “distasteful,” sitting out the national anthem is “protected under the Constitution. Police officers are here to protect the rights of every person, even if we disagree with their position.”
Which is, after all, the core concept of freedom — protecting the rights of every citizen, no matter how abhorrent one may personally find opposing viewpoints. And that’s precisely where those who lambasted Kaepernick and called for disciplinary action against him were off by a mile — criticism of his protest is as protected as the actions he took. Neither constitutes more worth than the other since both viewpoints must be discussed; but calling for punishment or termination ignores the vibrancy of difference preserved by the Bill of Rights and woven into the fabric of our varied experience.
Thwarting the freedom-quashing propaganda by snatching up Kaepernick jerseys in support of his right to ride the bench — whether or not the issue of police brutality resonates — proves a growing number of Americans respect the diversity of thought in this country.
It also proves people aren’t falling for the hate — they aren’t falling for the divisive tactic of negativity. They aren’t falling for the obfuscation of the issues in favor of flogging the messenger.
In short, Americans are remembering that in order to protect their own right to speak and act and live as they please, sometimes you must speak out in support of those whose viewpoints you admonish.