A reasoned response to Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously said, “you are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

Colin Kaepernick — a second-string (at best) quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers — recently raised a ruckus when he refused to stand during the singing of the national anthem during a pre-season football game. He then made national headlines with his explanation for his seated position. 

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder... There is police brutality — people of color have been targeted by police.” 

As an American, Colin Kaepernick may exercise his First Amendment right to free speech — however, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously said, “you are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” 

From Washington State to the Washington Post
Kaepernick’s assertion that police are intentionally “targeting” people of color with brutality is simply untrue — it is a false narrative which has been perpetuated by groups and individuals who have an anti-police agenda — and it has been debunked by researchers and media outlets alike. 

For example, Washington State University conducted a comprehensive study of deadly force, and published the results in the Journal of Experimental Criminology in 2014. Aided by criminologist David Klinger, lead researcher Lois James found that participants “were more likely to feel threatened in scenarios involving black people. But when it came time to shoot, participants were biased in favor of black suspects, taking longer to pull the trigger against them than against armed white or Hispanic suspects.”

In a Washington Times article on the study, Klinger indicated that after independently interviewing more than 300 police officers he concluded that “while they don’t want to shoot anybody, they really don’t want to shoot black suspects.”

Further, when the Washington Post studied a year’s worth of officer-involved shootings, they discovered that “in three-quarters of the fatal shootings, police were under attack or defending someone who was.” The Post found that “28 percent of those who died were shooting at officers or someone else. Sixteen percent were attacking with other weapons or physical force, and 31 percent were pointing a gun.”

Kaepernick also said, “You don’t have to do the same amount of training as a cosmetologist. I mean someone with a curling iron has more education and training than people who have a gun.”

Also untrue — in fact, totally absurd.  

As we all know, basic academy training is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to law enforcement education. The FTO program and the probationary training period are rigorous. Ongoing in-service training is continual. Furthermore, many departments also require at least a two-year criminal justice degree. 

Officers are required to know massive volumes of case law — decisions from the Supreme Court on down to all the lower courts. They have been asked (forced?) to take on the role of social worker, child protective services, and even street psychologist. To infer that a hairdresser is better educated than a cop is utterly ridiculous.

In response to Kaepernick’s statements, the San Francisco Police Department POA sent a letter to 49er President and CEO Jed York and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. In the letter, POA President Martin Halloran said that Kaepernick has “embarrassed himself, the 49er organization, and the NFL based on a false narrative and misinformation that lacks any factual basis.”

Halloran then invited any and all comers to participate in police training. “As a gesture to build communication and understanding about the law enforcement profession, the SFPOA extends an open invitation to Mr. Kaepernick and any player or employee from the National Football League to visit the SFPD Academy and partake in any of the simulations that recruits participate in during their training. This will hopefully expose them to a very small fraction of what officers experience daily on the streets of our city.” 

Across the Bay, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office sent an open invitation via Facebook for Kaepernick to visit and train at their Regional Training Center.

“We would like to cordially invite you to the Alameda County Regional Training Center,” the letter said. “The RTC is currently in session hosting our 156th and 157th basic police academies. In addition to the academy, we train thousands of law enforcement officers from throughout the state and country in all aspects of our profession, including use of force. We have a specially designed Use of Force simulator that puts officers in situations where they must make split second decisions on what actions to take.”

Some officers have said that they are “done with the NFL” and won’t watch or go to the games. That’s their right as well, but I prefer to approach the matter in the same way as SFPOA and ACSO. I will not waste time watching the 49ers (they are going to be terrible) but I’ll take in a game played by my New York Football Giants, who recently sent a pretty deliberate signal about their stance on the national anthem. 

Meanwhile, officers will continue to provide security to NFL games. They will likely have to deal with disputes between people in the stands — disputes over whether or not to stand for the national anthem, for example — and they will ensure that the players on the field are protected. They will do this with honor, not because of Colin Kaepernick, but in spite of him. 

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