Fighting for Whose Freedom: Racism, Police Unions, Veterans, and Colin Kaepernick

Jerri-Lynn here. NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the playing of the national anthem last Friday has sparked widespread discussion of race and racism. His decision is just the latest in a long tradition of black professional athletes taking political stands, as Kim Brown, TRNN reporter, notes below in her interview with Davey D– Hip-Hop historian, journalist, deejay, and community activist.

Kaepernick has subsequently further articulated his reasons for his failure to stand and has also criticised both presidential candidates.

Having grown up in a household where professional athletes were revered (especially those who wore a New York Yankee uniform), I’ve not surprisingly rebelled against looking to athletes as role models– whether political or otherwise.

But in this case, I’ll take my heroes where I can find them. As the interview discusses, the public acts and statements of such athletes can certainly have a wider impact when they either are accompanied by, or spark, further activist activity. So at this point, it’s worth recapping some of that history– particularly with race and racism being such prominent issues in the presidential campaign.

Davey D is a Hip-Hop historian, journalist, deejay and community activist. Active on the Hip Hop scene since 1977, as well as in community organizing, Davey D maintains a Web site, Davey D’s Hip-Hop Corner (, and is one of the hosts of Hard Knock Radio, a “drive-time talk show for the Hip-Hop generation” on KPFA in San Francisco as well as other Pacifica stations. Originally published at The Real News Network.

KIM BROWN, TRNN REPORTER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had the entire internet in flames over the weekend after he opted not to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner Friday night during a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. After the game, Kaepernick told reporters that he won’t “stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color”. Those are his words. He doubled down on this sentiment at Niners practice on Sunday.

COLIN KAEPERNICK, QUARTERBACK, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: The fact that it has blown up like this I think is a good thing. You know, it brings awareness. Everybody knows what’s going on, and this sheds more light on it. Now I think people are really talking about it, having conversations about how to make change, what’s really going on in this country, and we can move forward.

I think it’s something that can unify this team. It’s something that can unify this country, you know, if we have these real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people. If we have these conversations, there’s a better understanding where both sides are coming from. And if we reach common ground and can understand what everybody’s going through, we can really effect change and make sure that everybody’s treated equally and has the same freedom.

BROWN: Colin’s silent sit-down protest opened floodgates on several issues, including racial patriotism, veterans, American history, black athletes in protest, and the consequences thereof.

Today we’re joined by Davey D. He is the host of Hard Knock Radio. Davey is also a journalist and a hip-hop historian. He joins us today from the Bay in California.

Davey, thank you so much for your time.

DAVEY D: Thank you for having me on.

BROWN: Davey, we actually have a little bit of breaking news here regarding this Colin Kaepernick incident, because the San Francisco Police Officers Association actually has written and sent a letter to Jed York, who is the San Francisco 49ers owner, and to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. This has been obtained by TMZ Sports. They say that “While we certainly acknowledge Mr. Kaepernick’s First Amendment rights to remain seated during the national anthem, as inappropriate as that may be, we will not stand by while he attacks police officers in this country with such statements as, ‘people are on paid leave while people of color are killed'”. They go on to call him naive. They say he lacks “sensitivity towards police officers”. Davey, you’ve covered the Bay, you’ve covered police brutality and the like for some time now. Let’s get your initial reaction to what the police officers association has to say to Colin Kaepernick.

DAVEY D: The San Francisco Police Officers Association is full of crap. And it’s a laughable letter, but sadly it’s predictable as to what they do. This is the same organization that has its members sending racist text messages amongst each other on two different occasions, with none of them being fired. And the text messages are horrific. It got so bad that they actually talked about a black police officer, and the Black Police Officers Association had to send out a letter, and that particular officer has been, as they say, isolated in the force. This is the same police officers union that had 58 cases thrown out because of corruption and lying and the police reports and contaminating of the labs. We can go on and on.

In terms of the people that have been shot and killed, from Alex Nieto to the sister that was just recently shot up in Hunters Point to Mario Woods, all those police officers have been on paid leave. So there was no falsehood in what Kaepernick was stating, even though there’s been massive protests around those killings, including several during the Super Bowl when it came to the Bay Area.

So there’s been a lot of outrage with San Francisco police. The outrage led to a 17-day hunger strike by a number of activists in San Francisco, dubbed the “Frisco Five”. It led to the marrying of various community groups. So the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition very deliberately linked arms, linked hands, and share resources with the Latino organizations who are finding that the police have been killing and shooting folks in the mission with impunity.

And I’ll just close by saying that with regards to SFPD, the outrage in San Francisco and the Bay Area in general led to the stepping down of its former police chief Greg Suhr. That’s how outrageous it’s been. So this police union, I think they live for the days to make inflammatory statements. I think they live for the day to be in the spotlight for saying something that is so outlandish. And this letter to Jed York is just one of them, one of many examples of them doing that.

BROWN: And, Davey, the issue of Kaepernick somehow disrespecting the veterans and America at large by not standing for the national anthem has evoked a lot of emotion online. I want to cut to some footage of people burning Colin Kaepernick Jerseys, if we could.

(Video plays in broadcast.)

UNIDENTIFIED: This jersey was the worst $50 investment I have ever had. You, Mr. Kaepernick, if you don’t love our country, get the [censored] out of it, OK? So here’s your jersey.

BROWN: Yeah. With people telling Colin Kaepernick that if he doesn’t love America, then he basically should leave America, I mean, sort of the irony of saying that because he’s not standing up for what others have supposedly fought for, that he’s somehow disrespecting, when in actuality he’s in full ownership of all of his constitutional rights. And there’s been an interesting debate also online when we talk about veterans and the so-called disrespect of veterans. I’ve seen many black veterans, veterans of color online saying when they returned back home from their mission or from being deployed that they did not feel respected or that they received respect. What are your thoughts about this particular aspect of what this discussion has revealed?

DAVEY D: Well, what you have is a continuation and a desire by many people who have a disdain for black people and people of color in general to police their actions, their activities, and police their political points of view.

Let’s start off with the erroneous notion about Kaepernick having to leave this country if he doesn’t like it. There’s a difference between standing up against oppression where the flag symbolizes that and you having a right to that freedom of speech. That happens all the time. You have people that have used the flags in various ways, from wearing it as bathing suits to people changing the colors of the flag and putting their team’s insignia on there, to people who have sat down during the anthem. If we want to be fair about it, you’re not supposed to desecrate the flag. Any sort of desecration is a sign of disrespect. But you can go to a 49er game and see the 49er emblem emblazed on the flag. So are we disrespecting the flag then? Or are we just picking and choosing what we want to be mad about?

The second thing is is that the argument about we were fighting for your freedom. Let’s go through the wars. I’ve asked a number of veterans, which war were you fighting for my freedom with? Vietnam War? The Gulf War? The Spanish-American War? The war in Grenada? Libya? ‘Cause a lot of these wars weren’t for fighting for freedom. It was expansion of American Empire. And there had been vigorous protests, and many of these wars with people holding up the flag and saying, not in our name. So I question when people make these statements about, oh, we’re fighting for your rights. You’re not fighting for anybody’s rights. You just decided to join the army. Many people did so cause they had no choice. They needed some money. They thought this would be a career. And many were gambling on the fact that they might not have to go to war. Now that many people have gone to war, we’ve seen them coming back after doing four and five tours of duty. We’ve seen many people in the military protest that sort of extended stay. We’ve seen many people be dissatisfied. And we also see many so-called patriots not really back up their rhetoric in terms of the love they express for the Armed Forces, because, if you recall, there had to be protests, had to be petitions, there had to be people who were actually against the war fighting to make sure veterans have their benefits when they return home, that they’re not homeless in these streets, including many in the City of San Francisco, and third, that they would even have the protective gear. I haven’t forgotten that many of us had to write letters and even donate money to make sure that some of these folks had armored gear so they wouldn’t get shot, or at least if they were shot they wasn’t hurt. So are we talking about somebody who sat down? Are we talking about folks who are backing up their rhetoric with actual actions? Many of these folks who say they love America and love the flag probably did no activism to make sure that our veterans aren’t homeless when they return, that the VA hospitals are open for them.

We can go on and on about the disparaging treatment that many have gotten.

And then, lastly, I think you talked about many black veterans coming home and being mistreated. That’s historic. This goes all the way back to the early days in 1812 when we had the writing of the “Star-Spangled Banner”. There were black soldiers that fought in that war and afterwards they found that the repression came down on them even harder. Why? Because white people didn’t trust black people. We saw it after World War I, we saw it after World War II with massive amounts of lynching, many white people wanting to put black people back in their place because once they returned from these wars, they wanted the freedoms that they saw in other lands and they demanded that they would have that sort of equal treatment here, and that was vigorously resisted. And of course we found that there are many veterans who were mistreated by the police when they get home. The first one that comes to mind is the 70-year-old gentleman in New York–I’m going to remember his name–I forget it–his name is Kenneth something. But he was shot.

BROWN: Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. in White Plains, New York.

DAVEY D: That’s right. In New York. That’s right. Kenneth Chamberlain, a vet who was shot and killed by police. And we’ve seen that sort of mistreatment happen on a number of occasions. So kill the noise is what I would say to all that.

BROWN: Davey, so let me ask you this. So how does Colin Kaepernick fit in this succession of black athletes, black professional athletes, who have taken a political stand, you know, going back to Paul Robeson, coming up to Lebron James wearing the T-shirts “I can’t breathe”, up to the WNBA protests supporting Black Lives Matter? Even Michael Jordan, notoriously reticent to make a political stand or statement in any way, even he put up $1 million towards the NAACP legal Defense fund and $1 million towards an organization that examines police and community relations. Where does Colin fit in all of this?

DAVEY D: Well, I think we have to kind of contextualize this. Some of the protests that you mention have been very well thought out. There were people that trained themselves. They informed themselves. They were connected to organizations. And then they took a stand. Others found themselves in the middle of a firestorm, and they had a community that could rally around them. You know, Muhammad Ali may be one, but again, he was connected to a larger body of people and he had athletes that came to his aid.

Colin Kaepernick I think did what many people do. He sat down during the singing of the national anthem. That’s not the first time he’s done it. It’s not the first time many of us have done it. This time, in the tradition of trying to police bodies–remember, they did the this with Gabby Douglas during the Olympics. They didn’t do it during Michael Phelps’ laughing. And then they came back and wanted to go, well, why is Colin Kaepernick sitting? And instead of avoiding the question, Colin stepped up, and he gave a pretty frank answer: it’s in protest to the way that people are treated. This is not the first time Colin has spoken out on issues like this, so many people are going, why now? He’s always been like that. He’s a part of an organization. He’s a Kappa Alpha Psi member. They’ve been known for their community work. So he’s not unaware. He just doesn’t make a big to-do about it. I think he sat down quietly and just didn’t say anything. And people wanted to ask him about it. He gave an answer. And now we have a firestorm.

But the good thing about Kaepernick is that he hasn’t backed away from that firestorm. And he said, hey, I’m willing to go through it and I’m willing to deal with it. And I think that’s appropriate and that’s good for him. He has the money, so there’s no way that you can economically penalize him. He has the gumption, and he has the understanding of what’s going on and he has access to getting more understanding. So I give him props for that.

BROWN: And lastly, Davey, I mean, you’re out in the Bay. I know you’re an Oakland Raiders fan, so you may not pay too much attention to what the 49ers are doing. But what is the reaction? What is the temperature out there in the Bay Area about what Colin Kaepernick has done and what he has said? I mean, this just happened Friday, and it’s Monday now, and this has really dominated the weekend news cycle, even coming into this week. So what are people in the Bay Area saying about Colin Kaepernick today?
DAVEY D: Well, when we were at the Raiders game on Saturday, everybody in my section sat down during the national anthem. People like what he had to do. And you’ve had diehard Raider fans like myself saying, you know what? I’m going to have to like Kaepernick for this. I think there’s a lot of respect for what he did. I mean, there are some naysayers, there are some people that are all caught up in their emotions because they feel that the flag is untouchable and America’s policies should stand sacred and nobody should challenge them.

You have others that I feel have been jealous. They’re like, well, where is Colin Kaepernick? What has he done for the community? He doesn’t need to do anything for the community. A good organizer takes the moment and he flips it to their advantage. And Colin started the conversation. And it’s up to the rest of us who organize to run with it and contextualize it and give people information about the history of the “Star-Spangled Banner”, our war policies, and who exactly is calling for Colin to leave this country and who isn’t.

And I’ll close by saying that if people were sitting on the fence with Colin prior to this, this letter from the San Francisco Police Officers Association will definitely have people rally behind him, because now they’re seeing the type of enemy that he’s made. And that’s a very scurrilous enemy to have. So we’re behind Colin Kaepernick, at least the people that I’m around. Nobody is thumbs-down to him on this.

BROWN: Davey D. Davey is the host of Hard Knock Radio. He’s also a journalist and a hip-hop historian. You can follow him on Twitter at Mr. Davey D.

Davey, we appreciate your time and your expertise today. Thank you.

DAVEY D: Thank you. Have a good one.

BROWN: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Rick Cass

    The most rational, thoughtful and accurate commentary on this subject that exists. Right on!

  2. OIFVet

    As a veteran, I get offended by the notion that we fought for freedumbs rather than the expansion of the Empire and the personal enrichment of its elites. And I get offended when people get offended on my behalf, usually as part of the process of punishing people like Kaepernick for daring to exercise their 1st Amendment rights. Some freedumbs we got here…

  3. Kurt Sperry

    The whole “trigger warning” thing too often strikes me as pretty overwrought and thin-skinned, but the conservatives do the exact same stuff and don’t even realize they are doing it. Just watch the news to see people having coronaries over US footballer Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the American anthem. Of all the silly, trivial stuff to get your panties in a knot about. Pretty much anything having to do with any perceived slight to the flag or the military or the police sends them into requiring regaining their composure in a thumb-sucking fetal position in a safe darkened room until the horror has passed.

    1. DanB

      I’m curious to see how the remainder of Kapernick’s career unfolds. There are grounds to cut him for this violation of the corporatist unquestioning patriotism of the NFL and then justify it as “he no longer has the ability of a pro q’back.” It is good that many of his fellow players support him; it would be even better if some of those elite black athlete in other sports stepped up to support him or his right to take a divergent stand.

        1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

          I saw the Kareem Abdul-Jabber op-ed and thought about including it in my intro, but as the post was already lengthy, I did not. I’m very glad to see you posting it here.

      1. Kurt Sperry

        Kaepernick’s career has been on a downward arc for a while anyway, not due to his opinions, but rather to his onfield performance. He didn’t fare too well post-Harbaugh, although I don’t want to talk sports–never mind NFL football–here, as I suspect it wouldn’t really resonate with the commentariat.

    2. Kulantan

      The original use and by far the most common use (at least in my experience) of trigger warnings is to warn people when content cause panic attacks or flashbacks related to PTSD. For instance a film where someone’s leg gets blown off by a mine or a survivor’s recounting of a rape. It’s easy to see how that kind of content could cause a severe reaction in someone with PTSD and therefore why it might need a quick warning label.

      I honestly don’t understand why trigger warnings have become so vilified.

  4. Benedict@Large

    The police response is disgusting. Every single one of them knows what we are complaining about.

  5. Chuck

    I wonder how much more effective Kaepernck would have been if instead of choosing a subtractive action such as sitting down he had chosen to stand taller than everyone else, say on an 8 ft step ladder, and both sung the national anthem and then demanded that whites and blacks rise up to our better selves to achieve the promise of America.

    He has a dream….

  6. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Obama could sit silently at a press conference.

    Then the reporters ask why. And he says he’s angry at TPP opposition.

    But why the “I won’t speak. You have to find out why?”

    He should just use his pulpit.

    If you have anything to say, say it.

    1. Talk to other rich teammates. Get them to give money. Money talks.
    2. Talk to other rich athletes.
    3. Talk to activists. Give them money.
    4. Get all of the above to issue a joint statement.


    Sitting down now, or numerous times previous time tells the world nothing. They don’t know until you step up the pulpit do what you should have done in the first place.

    At the end, effective communication means not diverting time and energy to explain to teammates that you were not targeting the military. Most of the people who disagree (that I have read in the news) agree with his goal, but not his means.

    1. Cynthia

      I dunno, being silent, including sitting down to express your opinion about something has long been a form of protest. You don’t always have to speak or start a conversation in order to get your point across. I think an awful lot of people ‘heard’ Colin load and clear. And when asked why he did it, he explained.
      Democracy means being able to express your opinion about your country, even when that opinion is critical. And really, much as I agree that we need dialogue and not just anger, do you think, for example, that Colin and a white San Francisco police officer could have a conversation right now? I’ll answer my own question with a no, and I’d say it would be the police who couldn’t or wouldn’t converse.
      Frankly, I’m surprised that any person of colour stands up for the national anthem!

    2. Kulantan

      Being conspicuously silent has given his statement a much larger audience. It would have otherwise been a tiny news story buried at the bottom of the paper/webpage. The way he did it, even over here in Australia it was big news.

  7. oh

    Thanks, Jerri-Lynn for this post.

    Colin Kaepernick is a hero and has principles, unlike the other football players. That bozo Trump said if Colin didn’t like to stand for the Anthem (which is full of war terminology and nothing about our country) he should go somewhere else. I suggest that people like him who don’t believe in freedom of speech keep their mouth shut.

  8. TheCatSaid

    Davey D calls things as they are and it’s a breath of fresh air–particularly for not taking the police union BS. What an inspiring interview and thanks for featuring it, Jerri-Lynn.

    There’s another interview on TRNN at the moment about the history of stop-and-search and the long-term impact, with 2 great Baltimore journalists with lots of experience. It’s How Zero Tolerance Policing Destroyed Black Communities in Baltimore. (It turns out that nowhere in the country do they have the crazy arrest-for-no-reason policies to the extent that Baltimore had. Quotas.) Plus some good discussion of constructive changes (e.g., different performance metrics for police).

  9. Ché Pasa

    A “national conversation” about/around what constitutes patriotism might be in order, but that’s clearly not what’s happening. Instead the issue is focused on the Kaepernick’s acts and statements that have been interpreted and misinterpreted as anti-police and anti-military, and therefore anti-American. Patriotism is not really the issue. Instead it is more a matter of yet another black man being uppity. How dare he.

    How dare he indeed. To me, patriotism is not about reflexively saluting the flag or standing for the national anthem or what have you. Genuine patriotism includes respect for what’s good in the nation’s history and character (yes, a nation can be anthropomorphised) and a desire to fix what’s wrong. Symbolic protest, such as not standing for the anthem or saluting the flag is a time honored means of calling attention to issues that need correction.

    Police behavior toward black men in particular and communities of color in general, is one of those issues. And we see time and again that police union representatives won’t even acknowledge a problem with police violence, murder and impunity. Despite all that’s happened, all the protest and the grief, they don’t see their actions and their impunity as a problem at all. It is ever and always the victims’ problem.

    That’s not patriotic, nor is the widespread worship of police and the military. It’s selfish and cruel.

    And deadly.

    So people in positions of prominence and influence, sports stars included, have an obligation — a patriotic obligation in my view — to bring attention to these problems in any way they can.

    Halloran’s response is typically tone-deaf, but it is particularly inappropriate given SFPD’s recent spate of overt racism and killings of unarmed/non-threatening black men and people of color.

    The man makes plain his own stupidity, and he’s blind to the irony of his statements.

    But it is a perfect example of what police are and have become in so many cities across the nation. It is what they believe they are supposed to be. While we blame the police for the outrages they commit and for the idiotic statements issued in their names by people like Martin Halloran, they for the most part do not believe that what they do is in any way wrong or inappropriate, no matter how many times the people rise in protest. It’s simply beyond their ability to comprehend, in large measure because they are doing what their commanders want them to do.

    The killings, the casual brutality, the disinterest in aiding those they have harmed or wounded, their bullying and general cruelty, is what they are told to do and what they are defended for when they do it.

    The people may rise in protest, and Kaepernick may say “stop,” but until the people who give the orders say “stop” it won’t stop.

  10. Jeremy Grimm

    With “people in the streets” and a strong and growing “Black Lives” organization and movement which should have some kind of “bull-horn” available to hector their cause — why do the statements and actions of a pro-football player garner so much press and debate? His acts are notable but how are they more notable than what I believe are much larger organizations and acts? My feeling from this “balance” is excruciating vertigo.

  11. Jay

    Amadou Diallo, unarmed 22 year West African immigrant, shot 19 times by four NYC cops while reaching for his wallet to show his green card .He didn’t speak much English. February 4, 1999. The policemen were charged with second degree murder and reckless endangerment. No conviction and 17 years later one of the four cops has been promoted to sergeant. Bad cops should not be rewarded . Lot of us out here still not over the shootdown of Amadou Diallo. He had no criminal record. He worked as a dishwasher. He had a dream of becoming an American citizen. He never bothered nobody. Nobody.

Comments are closed.