Boycotting the NFL: Beyond the Spectacle of Symbol
The Southwest Political Report
By: Contributing Writer Amoja Sumler
Movements are always more important than leaders. Leaders are humans, which means they can make mistakes. They can be compromised. They can be bought. They can die. They can be killed.
I say all of that to say, though I am protesting the NFL, and I stand (sit) with Colin Kaepernick. It is important that the gaze of our focus not shift. His treatment is infuriating and unfortunate, but the true aim is remembering the police treatment of Black people that is the initiating incident. The extrajudicial summary execution, or state sanctioned murder (if you will) of Black, Latino, and Indigenous peoples in the United States by far outpaces the desire for solidarity for an athlete (even one I respect as much as Colin) to gain employment in a recreational sport to the tune of several million dollars a year. The statement “state sanctioned murder” is incredibly incendiary. There are people that will take offense to it and see it as unnecessarily caustic, perhaps even justified. I would ask those people, how then would they justify the use of summary execution of American citizens who have not been afforded due process? Citizens who have not been tried in a court of law by an elected judge or a jury of their peers. I would remind those people, that even the United States military has more strenuous rules of engagement as it relates to utilization of lethal force. The primary obligation of law enforcement is to detain those suspected of committing a crime. Law enforcement is tasked with apprehension.
Who else could in a court of law achieve a mistrial with a jury of their peers after shooting someone fleeing (Walter Scott) in the back with the argument that they “feared for their life?” Who could prove, that surrounded by half a dozen officers on the ground and covered by air support that Terrence Crutcher was a threat to Betty Shelby? How can we justify a legally obtained conceal and carry owner (Philando Castile) explaining he had his firearm in the car but not on his person, being shot dead on a routine traffic stop? Almost any citizen would fail at this task if they went to court armed with “self defense” arguments.
No one would ever suggest law enforcement doesn’t have the right to defend themselves in a life or death situation, it’s just that what “life or death” means at this point to law enforcement has become tangential to the reality of everyone else. According to statistics, law enforcement isn’t a top ten “dangerous occupation” in America, trailing far behind logging, and even coastal fishing as far as reported yearly fatalities. Yet American law enforcement routinely takes the lives of suspected citizens who quite literally have not been convicted of any crime, citizens often that aren’t even armed. This is not just a White or Black problem, yet race absolutely plays a part. Though more White Americans are killed more by raw numbers, people of color are killed vastly disproportionately according to percentage of population.
It is worth noting that while a significant portion of Whites fatally shot by law enforcement are armed, the majority of people of color with fatally encounters are not armed. Even so nationally when law enforcement kills, less than 20 percent are brought up on criminal indictment. Of those criminally indicted a scant fraction are ever convicted. According to Philip Stinson, an associate professor of criminology at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University, since 2005, there have only been 13 officers convicted of murder or manslaughter in fatal on-duty shootings. Note this doesn’t even account for situations like Sandra Bland’s, in which civilians died in police custody or were allegedly killed by other means. The current administration feels as if even that is too much, and somehow constitutes a “war against law enforcement.” With calls from the president of the United States encouraging even greater uses of force by law enforcement & Jefferson Davis Sessions leading the charge to roll back even the flimsy protections offered from the previous Department of Justice, it looks as if there will be no accountability coming from the federal government. That is a tacit endorsement of the lethal use of force. That is state sanctioned murder. That is a de facto call for fascism. Fascism is all the rage as buzzwords go these days, but it is not just a hip way to attack some one who disagrees with you. It, like Nazism, communism, democracy, or a representative republic, is a genuine political ideology. In the spring of 2003 Political scientist Dr. Lawrence Britt wrote the article “Fascism Anyone?” in which he listed the 14 tenets of fascism. The 12th tenet is as follows: Obsession with Crime and Punishment Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
This far in 2017 alone, there have been 643 fatal shootings by law enforcement. Thus far every state other than Wyoming and Nebraska, has experienced at least one fatal shooting. That American law enforcement operates under a differing set of laws than the rest of the citizenry (from speeding at will, to incredibly malleable definitions of what it means to have your life be “at risk”) is problematic and not easily justifiable in a society that purports to be a representative republic. That Blacks and other minorities make up an inordinate share of the percentage of fatal encounters represents a departure from the rule of law, and due process afforded by the Bill of Rights. It is at once reminiscent of Chief Justice Taney’s landmark ruling in the Dred Scott case. To wit:
They (Blacks) had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic whenever a profit could be made by it. This opinion was at that time fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race. It was regarded as an axiom in morals as well as in politics which no one thought of disputing or supposed to be open to dispute, and men in every grade and position in society daily and habitually acted upon it in their private pursuits, as well as in matters of public concern, without doubting for a moment the correctness of this opinion.
Quoting confederate sympathizers is not nearly the leap it sounds when even the FBI acknowledged in a classified Counterterrorism Policy Guide from April 2015 that White Supremacists have infiltrated American law enforcement. When America is less than 100 years removed from the “official” renunciation of Jim Crow. When the president of the United States is courted by Klansmen like David Duke. When the attorney general has dubious connections to White Supremacy groups in his home state of Alabama. When there is almost no legal precedent for self defense against authorized agents of state power, or legal recourse for the (especially minority) citizens who fear for their life.
This is what Colin Kaepernick was peacefully taking a knee to bring attention to. While I honor Colin for his stand, I am not boycotting the NFL because he was railroaded, as tragic as that is. I am boycotting the NFL, because it is an organization that can only exist through the overwhelming utilization of Black and minority people, and yet it does not honor those real lives nearly as much as it “honors” a symbolic flag. Symbols are powerful. The Flag is powerful. Colin as a symbol is powerful. The loss of the lives of citizens who have not been convicted of a crime is powerful, but also an actuality. They are who I will honor. I choose to honor them in a variety of ways, up to and including boycotting my favorite American sport.