I find the response by our nation’s police force toward recent athletes protests to be very disturbing. How can you have a national conversation when one side isn’t listening?
A movement of quiet activism has risen among black athletes as a result of high profile cases such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford and others where young black males have been killed by police. It has led to a multitude of “I Can’t Breathe” tee-shirts being worn by prominent figures like Lebron James, NFL players, Congressional Staffers, and more. It has led to several instances of quiet protest where high profile individuals raise their hands in a “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” statement.
The response to NFL players very quietly making these social statements by our nation’s police departments has been very telling and frankly rather embarrassing. If you aren’t concerned about the response you should be. There are many good responsible police officers serving the public but you would not know that from these statements. Its time for responsible police officers to hold their own accountable.
Some St. Louis Rams players walked out into the stadium with their hands raised as a gesture of support for a Ferguson community reeling over the lack of indictment of the police officer who shot and killed the unarmed Michael Brown.
The Brown case led to a multitude of protests which the police responded to with rather draconian methods that included attempting to arrest media covering the event.
We can learn much from how they responded to the very simple act of a few black NFL players entering a stadium with their hands raised in a “hands up don’t shoot” pose.
In full, here is the full statement issued by the St. Louis Police Officers Association (SLPOA) following the game via KSDK:
“St. Louis, Missouri (November 30, 2014) – The St. Louis Police Officers Association is profoundly disappointed with the members of the St. Louis Rams football team who chose to ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury this week and engage in a display that police officers around the nation found tasteless, offensive and inflammatory.
“Five members of the Rams entered the field today exhibiting the “hands-up-don’t-shoot” pose that has been adopted by protestors who accused Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson of murdering Michael Brown. The gesture has become synonymous with assertions that Michael Brown was innocent of any wrongdoing and attempting to surrender peacefully when Wilson, according to some now-discredited witnesses, gunned him down in cold blood.
SLPOA Business Manager Jeff Roorda said, “now that the evidence is in and Officer Wilson’s account has been verified by physical and ballistic evidence as well as eye-witness testimony, which led the grand jury to conclude that no probable cause existed that Wilson engaged in any wrongdoing, it is unthinkable that hometown athletes would so publicly perpetuate a narrative that has been disproven over-and-over again.”
Roorda was incensed that the Rams and the NFL would tolerate such behavior and called it remarkably hypocritical. “All week long, the Rams and the NFL were on the phone with the St. Louis Police Department asking for assurances that the players and the fans would be kept safe from the violent protesters who had rioted, looted, and burned buildings in Ferguson. Our officers have been working 12 hour shifts for over a week, they had days off including Thanksgiving cancelled so that they could defend this community from those on the streets that perpetuate this myth that Michael Brown was executed by a brother police officer and then, as the players and their fans sit safely in their dome under the watchful protection of hundreds of St. Louis’s finest, they take to the turf to call a now-exonerated officer a murderer, that is way out-of-bounds, to put it in football parlance,” Roorda said.
The SLPOA is calling for the players involved to be disciplined and for the Rams and the NFL to deliver a very public apology. Roorda said he planned to speak to the NFL and the Rams to voice his organization’s displeasure tomorrow. He also plans to reach out to other police organizations in St. Louis and around the country to enlist their input on what the appropriate response from law enforcement should be. Roorda warned, “I know that there are those that will say that these players are simply exercising their First Amendment rights. Well I’ve got news for people who think that way, cops have first amendment rights too, and we plan to exercise ours. I’d remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertiser’s products. It’s cops and the good people of St. Louis and other NFL towns that do. Somebody needs to throw a flag on this play. If it’s not the NFL and the Rams, then it’ll be cops and their supporters.”
Ignoring for a moment the incredibly racist nature of the statement, let’s look at what this says about our nation’s police officers shall we?
The central question here is why collectively our nation of police officers would take offense to a relatively small group of black males raising their hands up and asking not to be shot? Isn’t that the exact response police demand from them? I am at a loss to understand why any police officer would find such an action offensive.
Frankly, in addition to be incredibly racist, the statement comes off as rather defensive toward the handling of the shooting itself. There are many questions about why an indictment didn’t take place but that isn’t the point. The point is that the statement is so over the top and outrageous it calls into question the mindset of those involved.
The exaggerated nature of how the police view this very simple gesture is incredibly telling. The response is so over the top that not only does it challenge their credibility it actually calls into question their ability to respond to protest with any sort of measured action.
More recently, a few Cleveland Browns players, including wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, came out wearing “I Can’t Breathe” tee-shirts in light of the chokehold killing of Eric Garner in New York. The Garner case is even stronger evidence we need to have a national conversation about police response and awareness that police officers can and do act wrongfully at times.
In response to the Garner killing, athletes such as Lebron James, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team, the cast of “Selma,” noted actor Samuel L. Jackson and many more wore shirts and called for a conversation.
However, it was some Cleveland Browns players who wore an “I Can’t Breathe” tee-shirts that brought the ire of their local police department.
Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins is at the forefront of the attention and his tee-shirt contained two additional names and two more cases that raise questions regarding police response in situations involved young black males.
Tamir Rice was only twelve years old when he was shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer on November 22. The circumstances surrounding his killing are still being investigated but what is clear is that the police officer who shot and killed Rice made false statements about the killing that was lately refuted by video evidence. His death has been ruled a homicide.
Twenty two year old John Crawford was holding an air rifle at a Wal-Mart in Beavercreek, Ohio when police shot and killed him, an act caught on tape that also refuted the police versions of events. Police response both during and after the killing has come under fire following a video of the interrogation of Crawford’s girlfriend being posted at The Guardian.
Following the Browns players protest, the Cleveland police department issued a statement of its own. Per NewsNet5, here it is in full:
It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law. They should stick to what they know best on the field. The Cleveland Police protect and serve the Browns stadium and the Browns organization owes us an apology.
Once again, the racism in this statement is palpable. Further, there is an arrogance contained there of how dare anyone question us or our actions. The racism comes in with the assumption these “dumb jocks” don’t know what they are talking about and are only good for one thing. Their athletic ability on the playing field which can be traced back to the days of slavery when black male slaves were highly prized for their physical attributes not only in the fields but as a breeder of more slaves.
Taking these two statements in conjunction, is there any wonder that people question police response when they can’t even respond objectively to a social protest? How telling is it that in neither instance did the police make any effort to talk to these athletes regarding their concerns, or to try to bridge any kind of gap with the community. The hubris and entitlement shown there is overwhelming.
When there is clear evidence the police blow a simple protest movement out of proportion its fair to question whether they are capable of balanced and measured response when faced with those who disagree with them. If our nation’s police departments are so arrogant that they won’t listen to a peaceful protest, you can bet they aren’t reasonable when responding to one that might not be so peaceful.
Yesterday, Hawkins spoke out for the first time regarding his decision to wear the shirt, saying he was thinking of his own two year old son when Rice was shot and killed. You can watch the incredible video here, and a full transcript of his comments per Toni Grossi of Cleveland.com are below:
“I was taught that justice is a right that every American should have. Also justice should be the goal of every American. I think that’s what makes this country. To me, justice means the innocent should be found innocent. It means that those who do wrong should get their due punishment. Ultimately, it means fair treatment. So a call for justice shouldn’t offend or disrespect anybody. A call for justice shouldn’t warrant an apology.
“To clarify, I utterly respect and appreciate every police officer that protects and serves all of us with honesty, integrity and the right way. And I don’t think those kind of officers should be offended by what I did. My mom taught me my entire life to respect law enforcement. I have family, close friends that are incredible police officers and I tell them all the time how they are much braver than me for it. So my wearing a T-shirt wasn’t a stance against every police officer or every police department. My wearing the T-shirt was a stance against wrong individuals doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons to innocent people.
“Unfortunately, my mom also taught me just as there are good police officers, there are some not-so-good police officers that would assume the worst of me without knowing anything about me for reasons I can’t control. She taught me to be careful and be on the lookout for those not-so-good police officers because they could potentially do me harm and most times without consequences. Those are the police officers that should be offended.
“Being a police officer takes bravery. And I understand that they’re put in difficult positions and have to make those snap decisions. As a football player, I know a little bit about snap decisions, obviously on an extremely lesser and non-comparative scale, because when a police officer makes a snap decision, it’s literally a matter of life and death. That’s hard a situation to be in. But if the wrong decision is made, based on pre-conceived notions or the wrong motives, I believe there should be consequence. Because without consequence, naturally the magnitude of the snap decisions is lessened, whether consciously or unconsciously.
“I’m not an activist, in any way, shape or form. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred I keep my opinions to myself on most matters. I worked extremely hard to build and keep my reputation especially here in Ohio, and by most accounts I’ve done a solid job of decently building a good name. Before I made the decision to wear the T-shirt, I understood I was putting that reputation in jeopardy to some of those people who wouldn’t necessarily agree with my perspective. I understood there was going to be backlash, and that scared me, honestly. But deep down I felt like it was the right thing to do. If I was to run away from what I felt in my soul was the right thing to do, that would make me a coward, and I can’t live with that. God wouldn’t be able to put me where I am today, as far as I’ve come in life, if I was a coward.
“As you well know, and it’s well documented, I have a 2-year-old little boy. The same 2-year-old little boy that everyone said was cute when I jokingly threw him out of the house earlier this year. That little boy is my entire world. And the No. 1 reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me. And my heart was broken for the parents of Tamir and John Crawford knowing they had to live that nightmare of a reality.
“So, like I said, I made the conscious decision to wear the T-shirt. I felt like my heart was in the right place. I’m at peace with it and those that disagree with me, this is America, everyone has the right to their first amendment rights. Those who support me, I appreciate your support. But at the same time, support the causes and the people and the injustices that you feel strongly about. Stand up for them. Speak up for them. No matter what it is because that’s what America’s about and that’s what this country was founded on.”
When you stop and consider the dichotomy between those two statements, it’s fair to question who has the better grasp of the law.
It is way past time we had a national conversation about police response and racism. It seems clear, however, that our nation’s police forces don’t want to have that conversation. They aren’t willing to listen to their communities, at least not when minorities are simply asking to be heard and treated fairly.
What does that tell you about their mindset?
Yes indeed the response by our nation’s police force is rather telling.