Justice James Wilson was one of America's founding fathers and a signatory of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. He was also one of the original six Supreme Court Justices appointed by George Washington.
In 1804, during his first lecture as the pioneer law professor of the University of Philadelphia, Justice Wilson expressed that all American children should be taught the principles of what led to the creation of the United States. He said that if significance was placed on symbolism or nationalism, and not the foundational principles of America, it would lead to a nation of people who exist in a chaotic state of dystonia.
Essentially, this is exactly where we are today as a nation…
What Justice Wilson was referring to is the reality that on every 4th of July we support and celebrate the birth of an armed insurrection and revolution against a government authority. Then for the remaining 364 days of the year, we live under the precedent that obedience to our ruling government and adherence to American customs or laws represents model behavior for all citizens.
These are conflicting themes. One says rebellion leads to greatness. The other says obedience represents what is morally correct.
In the absence of remembering what are the foundational principles of America, we have provided more tangible means, which are far easier to understand, such as colors, flags, songs, and symbols. To a certain degree, the devaluation of principled identity is an inherent eventuality of any sovereign nation’s as it grows. To pass down understanding of one’s national identity through principled values takes a considerable amount of concerted effort on the part of a country; as a nation’s principle character is rooted in immaterial conceptional thought.
Ultimately, even if the principles on which America was founded on are not passed down from generation to generation, that does not suddenly mean these initial beliefs are lost. More importantly, these very principles are interwoven with the fabric of the nation and therefore the vestiges of these beliefs are forever a part of America’s existence.
Over the past two years, we have seen a great deal of controversy and debate over protests during the playing of America’s national anthem. What initially started out as an act by Colin Kaepernick, has since been followed by numerous other athletes and citizens.
At the onset of these protests, I was less than supportive. The basis for my displeasure had nothing to do with what was being protested. I never overtly discounted the current struggles that minorities face in America. Rather, my initial displeasure was completely rooted in selfishness on my part. For me, sports represented an entertaining distraction from the cruel realities of the real world. By protesting disenfranchisement of African Americans or people of color, at the onset of a football game, represented the sudden immersion of those cruel realities in which I was trying to provide myself a temporary reprieve from. Ultimately, I had to accept that my initial discontentment was truly 100% selfishness on my part.
In fact, it was the worst kind selfishness...
It was selfishness at the expense of others. In effect, I was perfectly fine allowing myself to be entertained by watching African Americans as they played a football game. However, when it came to the harsh realities Black American face outside of a football field, I chose willful, deliberate indifference and ignorance.
These men on those professional football fields represent well paid and highly skilled athletes, not because they possess some inborn privilege. Rather, because for their entire lives they have worked hard to achieve their levels of success. For me to be content in simply allowing them to entertain me while they played the game, and then demonstrate deliberate indifference to the serious social issues they were expressing… to be blunt, was simply cruel and demeaning.
In essence, what I was saying was the value in which these professional athletes are worth is to simply put on a show for me. Beyond that, they are not afforded the right to be human beings with emotions and concerns that extend beyond the field of play. Though the setting is vastly different, the underlying principle in what I was supporting, was no different than the “Mandingo Fighting” depicted in the Quentin Tarantino film ‘Django Unchained.’
Once I came to terms with my own inequity that had ever allowed me to be initially annoyed. I found myself compelled, ethically, morally, and ultimately professionally, to support what these athletes were protesting. This included their right to protest in the first place.
My support for those who kneel during the national anthem always seems to astound some people. Primarily, some are shocked because at least at the onset, when Colin Kaepernick took a knee, he was protesting the treatment of minorities by law enforcement. People say to me, “But you’re a cop! How can you possibly support people who are protesting against your profession?”
Well here is why…
First of all, as a police officer, I strive to be viewed as one of the good guys. If one was to look at what represents being a “good guy,” it doesn’t matter if you look at Jesus Christ or Spiderman, all “good guys” possess specific traits, such as humility, empathy for others, and a love for humanity. Therefore, part of being a good guy is demonstrating that which represents goodness. Even when dealing with a situation that involves “bad guys” those traits that represent goodness should not be dictated by those who are “bad.” Essentially, the moment I stoop down to the same behaviors of the “bad guys” is the moment I myself am no longer a “good guy.”
Instead, my behavior and actions must be guided by a moral compass that points ethically north and not by the actions of others. Ultimately, when it comes to the actions or behaviors of these athletes protests, none of them are representative of “bad guys.” Eventually, to admonish what they are saying or protesting, even if it is the profession in which I serve, would involve me not demonstrating humility, empathy for others, and love for humanity.
At the end of the day, the person in which I strive to represent personally obligates me to listen to the concerns being expressed by their protests.
Additionally, as a sworn peace officer I also have a professional and ethical obligation to support their actions.
I voluntarily raised my right hand and swore a solemn oath to defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies foreign and domestic. Understandably, the defense of American freedom and democracy is often not attributed to police officers and only considered in regards to those who serve in our nation’s military. However, in truth, the American law enforcement profession represents the defenders of freedom and the constitution on U.S. soil. In fact, under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, Title 18 section 1385 of the United States Code, Federal military personnel are barred from enforcing domestic policies.
Our military defends our sovereignty and freedom from enemies abroad. Then it is mine and every other police officer’s obligation to support the military, U.S. citizens, and American freedom at home.
When it comes to the specific topic of persons wishing to protests during the national anthem, the constitutional law is clear. The precedent has been set and repeatedly affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The First Amendment to the Constitution protects U.S. citizens from facing imposition or penalty for free speech. In addition, it provides one with the authority to protest the government for redress.
Understandably, when it comes to professional athletes, they acting under the jurisdiction of a private, non-governmental organization. Therefore, if their employer (the NFL, specific team, etc.) decided they wanted to sanction players for refusing to stand for the national anthem, they would be acting well within their rights. However, to date, these athletes’ employers have supported their right to protest. In effect, the government now has no constitutional right to intervene or threaten penalty against these athletes or their organizations by decree of the First Amendment.
In my opinion, I extend this First Amendment protection to say that if a government official, whether it be an elected official or employee acting under the color of law, expresses disapproval or criticism of these player’s actions, they are in direct conflict with the First Amendment. By expressing disapproval or criticism as a government official you are acting under the color of law in providing an opinion regarding free speech that can result in negatively affecting and impacting the public’s perception of a person. This dances dangerously on the government imposing a penalty against free speech.
Now, it has been expressed that under Title 36, Chapter 3 section 171 of U.S. code standing in support during the national anthem is the law and therefore to kneel is unlawful by Federal statute. I can clarify this anyone who may have been told this before. Title 36 outlines the official customs and guidelines for observation during the national anthem. It is not a law, in terms of criminal or civil liability. There is no penalty for violating these customs because to enforce criminalization of official observation would represent a violation of one’s First Amendment rights.
At the end of the day, under all of these conditions I’ve expressed, for me not to support these athletes and their protest, would make me derelict in my oath and obligation as a sworn peace officer and in the protection of domestic freedom for all citizens of the United States.
Additionally, for me not to be supportive of the concerns expressed that is the basis of the protests would force me to be a person that I work hard every day not to be. In essence, it would cause me to be in ethical and moral conflict of my pursuit to represent both a “good guy” as a police officer and a good person as a human being.
I unwaveringly condemn racism, bigotry, and prejudice in all forms. The suggestion that I cannot ever have the ability to be the best I can be in life because the playing field is disproportionate, not allowing me to compete with the best that life has to offer, is something I refuse to accept. In this regard I consider prejudice to be cowardice. It is the fear that one might not be able to compete in life if the playing field is level. For me… I have no desire to be a coward.
Given my passion against racism and prejudice, I consider that any declaration in the existence of bias should be respected and listened to. To refuse to hear what someone is saying by no means actually dispels the validity of their words.
Lastly, I have often heard it expressed that by not standing for the national anthem it is displaying disrespect for America’s veterans who have fought for our freedoms that we enjoy. Ultimately, I have nothing but the utmost respect for our military service members, veterans, and their families.
With that said, I took an oath to defend America’s freedom and constitutional rights here at home. Personally, I cannot think of a more flagrant act of disrespect towards our country’s military and its veterans than failing to honor that oath.
I accept that not everyone has taken that same oath and nor do I expect everyone to feel the same obligation as me. In reality, my obligation to defend freedom extends even to those who are critical of these player’s protests or of myself.
Ultimately, my personal and professional obligations do not afford me the same freedom that some people may enjoy. I do not have the personal or professional freedom to be critical or to stand with the deliberate indifference of the concerns expressed by others. Regardless of if I inherently understand those concerns or not, I am still obligated to listen to them and see how they may be rectified. In truth, my lack of freedom exists so that others may enjoy the benefit of freedom for themselves.
Beyond all of the social and political rhetoric, supporting these athlete’s protests is my contribution in trying to ensure those fundamental principles that Justice James Wilson mentioned, de facto the spirit of what represents America, remains alive.
Everyone has the right to their own opinion, however... this, is why I support one's right to kneel.