“The greatest patriotism is to tell your country when it is behaving dishonorably, foolishly, viciously.” – Julian Barnes
Football players across the nation protested on Sunday by linking their arms or kneeling during the National Anthem. Not only were they protesting the injustice minorities receive at the hands of law enforcement officers, or the ingrained acceptance of that injustice so many Americans don’t even realize they’ve embraced, but also the continued abhorrent behavior of a President who stands antithetical to the principles of a country he currently leads.
Their motives were not selfish, nor vindictive, nor anti-military.
As the news unfolded on Sunday I scanned Facebook and, as expected, there were a multitude of people claiming that the protesters and those who support them are an embarrassment to the country in their disrespect of the flag and the service members who “fight for that flag.” The words “I stand” are now framed around many of my friend’s profile photos, and arguments have been unfolding from sea to shining sea. “Those who protest the flag have never been handed a folded one,” many posted in an attempt to shame protesters and their supporters into silence. “This is why I stand” was the caption alongside the picture of a flag draped casket, as if those who disagree with them on protesters can’t possibly understand the sacrifices men in uniform have made. But the stabbing quips and wretched use of this country’s heroes to heap coals onto the heads of those with opposing views has gone too far, and this is just the latest example.
Many of those football players have family members who served or are currently serving, and many of those who support them do, as well. Many veterans not only defended the protesting football players, but were downright revolted by the idea that those who take a knee are merely exposing their anti-military feelings. Even Villanueva, the man the far right celebrated enthusiastically as the lone Steeler to stand, came out and explained the incident was unintentional, and that his protesting teammates love and respect their country. But that still didn’t stop the arbiters of patriotism from pounding their chests and declaring “I’m more American than you because I stand!” Instead of listening to the opposition and constructing an argument of substance they, once again, used our heroes like pawns in a game, and when they post a picture of a grieving family they think they’ve earned the right to yell “CHECKMATE!” Disliking the protests is one thing, declaring that all those who disagree with you are unpatriotic lemmings who don’t respect our military is another – and it’s shameful.
And as Albert Camus once said, “I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice.”
If the purpose of the protest is lost on you, allow me to clarify: I have no doubt that those against the protest love this country and its heroes, but blind allegiance to anyone behind a badge has done more to disrespect this nation’s principles and the heroes who died for them than any football player ever could. However, when we merely speak on behalf of individual rights, or – God forbid – protest peacefully, we’re told that we’re disrespecting the soldiers who died for our freedom. We simply want this important concept to be understood: Those who died did so for a reason. We have a sickness in this country, we’ve started worshiping a piece of fabric while forgetting what that fabric represents, and Christians in particular have settled to put their “my patriotism is better than yours” attitude before the cross. When people make such blanket “I care about the troops so I stand” statements, accusing those who defend the rights of minorities as anti-cop and anti-military, and attempt to be the arbiters of patriotism, they throw heroes under the bus with those they’ve labeled as their enemies.
Turns out plenty of our heroes and their enemies are on the same side.
And that’s why I sat down to write this post with the help of a few friends.
Jared Still served in Iraq in 2004, separated as a Captain. He was decorated with the Bronze Star Medal for “actions under direct enemy fire,” and was involved in hundreds of missions throughout central and eastern Iraq. He was kind enough to write up some thoughts for me after I reached out to him in response to his support for the protesters, and his exhaustion over so many trying to paint the protesters and their supporters as “anti-military.” His response to the charge that “our military fought and died for the flag” below:
“Do they think war was playing capture the flag?!
Americans fought and died to establish and to defend what the flag represents!
We take an oath to protect and defend the US and the Constitution from all enemies – foreign and domestic – and never, ever, in our nation’s history have we elevated the symbolism and honor we bestow the flag in the military, on the civilian public.
Nor should we.
That’s for those nations that don’t give a flying ferret about liberty, and are established on authoritarian rule. Making the flag a sacred object is nearly as silly as worshiping fireworks because of the Fourth of July. The founding of our nation, and the revolutionary war, Declaration of Independence, and later the Bill of Rights, are to me, the second most important events in the history of the world, following the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So I in no way would minimize the founding of our nation, and the greatest framework ever bestowed upon man for self-governance. But that doesn’t make the 4th of July sacred. That doesn’t make a fireworks finale something I should stand and salute, or lay my hand over my heart.
It seems to me that the vast majority of the #whiteright has lost the ability to discern the difference between SYMBOL and SUBSTANCE!
A friend commented on a post of mine yesterday, “you don’t dishonor the symbol of liberty!” To which I somewhat amused, just asked, “which is of greater value to you; the symbol of liberty, or the actual exercise of liberty?”
As Christians we don’t worship the cross – we worship the Triune God who died on that cross. Sure, it has become the most powerful SYMBOL in human history, but before the SUBSTANCE of Jesus’ life and death, it was simply what was on the hill next to Him in death, to His left and His right – a Roman torture and killing device!
If you have elevated and made an idol out of “the flag” and the singing of our national anthem before a game, in a stadium of 80,000 drunks, over peaceful, silent protest at the same venue, you have completely lost sight of the substance of the flag, the substance of our nation’s founding, history, and her military’s sacrifice.
I’d go a step further and say that you disgrace those ideals, because you’re elevating SYMBOL over SUBSTANCE and ideals, when our soldiers have spilled blood all over the world, for those IDEALS, of what it meant and should mean, to be an American.”
Worshiping the flag, and the physical act of standing for the flag, isn’t itself an act of patriotism. Individuals being denied their rights, including the right to due process, goes against the values behind the flag. It goes against what makes that flag precious, it goes against the rights that our soldiers fought and died for. Heroes willingly sacrifice themselves for our country because they find our country uniquely worthy of sacrifice, because preserving and maintaining the rights and freedoms of all people — the cornerstone of our country — is worthy of sacrifice.
Tim Sigmund is a Navy veteran, and – disclaimer – he’s also family.
“Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of those who threaten it.” U.S. Department of the Navy
“As a vet, I probably fall into the rare 3rd category in the line of thinking where these protests are concerned in that I am neither strictly opposed (a minority of vets, I find) nor a reluctant constitutional defender. “Yeah, they can do it, it’s what I fought for, but I hate it” is not me. Neither is “Punish them all” my conclusion.
Knee jerk reactions are all the rage, as is cognitive dissonance, but neither is helpful. Sophisticated responses that ‘justify’ unequal treatment (because “blacks are more violent by nature”) by the police, welfare comments, “go back to Africa,” “don’t be a thug,” “he’s just a heroin dealer,” “the streets are better off,” “obey the police dumbass,” etc… All surprisingly popular and disheartening responses – and ironically telling – but not helpful, wanted, fair, or justified.
How is it these ‘patriotic’ Americans can’t hear what they’re saying is beyond me. They say things like, “Blacks aren’t discriminated against! These dumb asses need to get a clue or I say we cut off their welfare checks! Don’t like it? Go back to Africa if you don’t like it! This is America!”
Can you hear yourself? You are what they are claiming you are.
No, most people I know aren’t like that, but a microcosmic sample is used to define an entire movement by *us* and that’s okay. An actual sampling size is used by ‘them’ and, well, “They’re just racists themselves!”
And then there’s the insane “Reverse racism is as prevalent as racism… which is not really a thing… but reverse racism is!” argument that seems to be universal. Flat out denial that they’re profiled while profiling.
And “I have black friends too, so, no.”
So, I embrace their protest for three reasons.
Number 1, I empathize.
Someone said “Only .02% of whites are stopped for no reason and only .06% of blacks are. That’s not even 1%!” So of a million, only 200 whites. And *600* blacks. And of 100 million, only 20,000 whites and 60,000 blacks! Unless you realize that the number of whites is preposterous, then *maybe* that number of blacks would be “only .4% difference!” (From a constitutional standpoint, addressing this discrepancy would axiomatically expose the lunacy of all of it.)
But let’s be real. I’m gonna guess the engineer from Chicago who was stopped over 20 times between the ages of 16 and 18, spent one night in jail, but *never* got a ticket, counts as “1.” Kudos to his father for insisting Jr. just keep his head low and nose clean (no tickets!) but bigger kudos to the ‘prima donnas’ willing to speak for those who don’t want any trouble!
Number 2, they have the right.
As reviewed, constitutionally allowed. Deal with it.
Number 3, their protest is worth celebrating!
The constitution avers from the very beginning,
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
“… and our posterity…”!
At one point in time, the founders broke free from the flag of Britain, though Britain demanded fealty. The Declaration picked the fight, the war proved the point, the Constitution sealed the deal. The honor the British flag demanded became forcibly mute, and the greatest opportunity the world has ever seen was born. It didn’t start with disdain for a flag. It started with oppression and a response to that oppression. It started with demands of relief from that oppression and ultimately, as an extension of the crown, the flag failed to deliver.
Our Constitution is different. Written into it is the means to keep the flag honest. The Constitution doesn’t simply allow it, it *demands* it.
On Sunday, more patriots than ever answered that call. They gathered arm in arm, some standing, some kneeling, some in the privacy of the locker room, and answered that demand. They are saying, “This discrepancy must end. This bias must end. This legal oppression must end.”
How did I feel? Proud to be American. Proud that many would risk their livelihood (Some think they’re ignorant of this risk. Um, no), including team owners, to be a voice for the obscure and anonymous statistics that are the minority citizens.
Proud of the Constitution and those who demand it delivers what it promised to deliver. Proud of the flag. Certain that we have the constitution to weather this storm. Leary of people who claim unwavering loyalty without accountability.
Hopeful that if my line is ever crossed I’d have the conviction and courage to die before I stand before a flag that oppresses me.
God bless America.”
The flag represents our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The flag represents our values as a country. What good is that piece of fabric if we lose all respect for what made it worthy in the first place? The very people yelling at protesters can’t even see that those protesters aren’t fighting against the flag or the anthem, they’re fighting for the meaning behind those symbols, symbols meant to represents a beautiful set of ideals where we recognize that all men are created equal and endowed the same rights. Symbols that represent justice, courage, strength, vigilance, perseverance, hope, and the bloodshed that occurs in defense of those rights. It represents heroic individuals who were willing to die for the rights of EVERY citizen. Those rights include due process.
Allow me to reiterate: Loving the flag itself is not patriotism, loving — and fighting to preserve — what makes our country worthy of devotion, is patriotism. Kneeling for the National Anthem is not an egregious act against our troops – disregarding what they fight for, however, is.
Plenty of veterans made their stance clear:
And Russell Minick, another veteran, spoke out in support of protesters on social media, but also noted that in regards to Trump’s behavior he is “grieved at how a man without integrity is manipulating patriotic sentiments for his own ends.”
A police officer and veteran in St. Louis who wished to remain anonymous also had this to say:
“As a veteran I support the NFL players. It’s not about disrespecting the flag, it’s about bringing light to the injustices in this country. Last time I checked the flag stood for freedom, not obedience.
As for #45 you can probably learn a lesson from them as well… UNITY. Try harder to bring this country together instead of helping tearing it apart.”
My friend, Robert Herndon, a veteran, said “I never did this before tonight but my oath compelled me to take the knee.”
“I really struggled with this. Me, and almost every man in my family served in the military, and I LOVE my country. I really do. However I cannot stand right now for the national anthem and I cannot stand for the display of the flag knowing that my friends who are African-American are being discriminated against. I just can’t do it. There is a reason for these protests and I’m one thousand percent beside them and behind them until we change our ways and change our laws, and I will support Colin Kaepernick and every other player in the NFL until we recognize and fix what is wrong. I’m neither a democratic nor a republican. I just want to see us do what is right.”
And from Brent, another veteran:
“I am a white male who has only in the past couple years become sufficiently empathetic to racial inequalities in America. I used to believe how many do. I used to believe that we live in a post-racial country and that everyone had equal opportunity. Frankly, based on my experiences, I didn’t have much reason to not believe that. I was unempathetic to the challenges many face.
I began to educate myself after AZ SB 1070, a bill I initially supported but then discovered many of the authors were racist, I discovered that the bill would create a hostile environment for anyone of Mexican heritage, of whom many I count as friends. I then started to question whether many of my assumptions were accurate about those on my side and about racial injustice itself. After honest inquiry, I discovered that racism and racial injustice are still very real in America and that both take many forms. 2016 served as confirmation of this and caused me to feel ashamed for defending conservatives from claims of racism for so long.
I honestly believe that most conservatives are not racist and that most who are do not see themselves as racist, That being said there is a general tolerance of racism on the right to the point of even defending and promoting racists. Confederate statues were put up when that blacks were rising, this isn’t a coincidence & even if it were blacks have reason to be upset. Statues in a public square, aren’t there for historical value, they are there to honor the person memorialized. The people who support the statues aren’t all racist, but they are supporting a racist symbol under the guise of “history.” Likewise, disagreeing with players kneeling doesn’t make you racist but, if you aren’t considering their cause, maybe you are part of the problem. If you haven’t truly considered that racial injustice exists in the USA & is partially a result of our justice system, please do now.
Maybe you are like I was – unaware of how multiple unnecessary interactions with police can make communities distrustful of LEOs.
Maybe you are like I was – unempathetic to the difficulties of growing up in poverty and with a skin tone that leads you to be judged negatively.
Maybe you are like I was – tuned out because of the idiocy of the “White privilege” racial guilt campaign.
Wherever you come from, I ask you to pause. Put yourself in the shoes of those who don’t look like you. Empathize with them. Love them. Consider for a moment that they have a reason to feel the way they do. That maybe your personal experiences limit your worldview. If you do, I am confident you won’t feel it necessary to tell blacks when and where to protest. We can listen and we can all be better.”
I know so many who are scared to come out in support of these players in fear they’ll be labeled “anti-military.” Trust me, I come from families with soldiers, police officers, medical professionals, athletes, and good people I genuinely love. I’m the daughter of a 30 year veteran, and the granddaughter, stepdaughter, niece, sister, and cousin of countless veterans and law enforcement officers. The pressure to stay silent in the face of possibly having a loved one disagree with you or feel betrayed can be overwhelming, but despite what the angry and often hypocritical masses suggest, supporting the protesters and respecting the military are not opposing ideals.
I’ve heard all the arguments, at one time in my ignorance I probably made some of them, and for that I am truly sorry. We have a superiority problem in America where we look at the news and think we have a right to declare someone’s death acceptable. “He was a criminal,” they shout at those who simply want due process respected. “I’m better than them,” they start to believe.
However, here’s what I know: Within my family we have a laundry lists of mistakes made, punishments endured, and foolish behavior that went unnoticed because of what I once guessed was the gift of good timing – as do the vast majority of families in America. But the facts are, every family can think of that person who maybe got in that car after too much alcohol, maybe that was a frequent game of Russian Roulette for them and you’re just happy they never hurt anyone or themselves. Or what about that person in the family who dabbled in drugs, or maybe the one who did much more than dabble. Maybe you have a man in your family who put his hands on a woman in anger, the person who found himself or herself in handcuffs – or worse, prison. That one person with the heavy foot who attracts the cops, or the one who talks about all the things they did “back in the day” and you wonder how they were never arrested. Or that other person who tells their story of redemption, and somewhere between memories of their childhood and their prestigious career in uniform are the bad decisions they somehow managed to survive through. I have these people in my family.
We must start questioning what makes us qualified to judge whether a man deserves to die, because if what I see on the news fits under your description of “acceptable loss,” then as I look at a picture of Aiyana Jones or Philando Castile, among so many others, I can only find that we should all qualify as an “acceptable loss.”
Yet I’ve never watched a viral video of my family member dying on sidewalk as police officers stand by and watch. And those family members I spoke of who were speeding made it home without being executed in their vehicles in front of a pair of innocent eyes in the backseat. The family members who found themselves in court didn’t die before they got there. And the family members who made it to court got a slap on the wrist. The family members who were never caught were never pat down or targeted or profiled. The family members who didn’t “just follow the law” saw their day in court and now have families, jobs, and will God willing grow old. The people I love who had no respect for authority lived to tell their children to respect authority. The drug addicts got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight chances, and then they got that many more, and they lived to talk about it. I’ve never watched my country take to social media to dig up the past of the person I loved to prove he was a “thug,” to use a photo of his attire to justify his execution and denial of due process at the hands of the enforcement arm of the government. I’ve never heard a person with a badge say he was going to “kill this motherf*****” about the person I love. I’ve never seen a viral video of my loved one bleeding out on a sidewalk in his own country. I’ve never had to attend a funeral for a child who died in a no-knock raid, and then see her killer walk away without so much as a slap on the wrist.
Change the color of my skin and my chances of experiencing any of those devastating situations rises dramatically.
I’d encourage you to read the entire post from my friend Darvio (attached below), but this excerpt should bring us all to our knees and make us question everything we believe:
“But if I died tomorrow, if I became the next hashtag, at the hands of the police, what would you say about me? What would you say when I was no longer able to defend myself? Would you stand up for me or would you let people destroy my reputation while I’m in the grave? Some of you may be offended at me asking that, like “of course I would defend you!” Well every time you go off about people protesting to bring attention to something I’ve been through and God forbid could go through again, you are attacking a piece of me. I’ve literally been through this. So how can I Square your lack of compassion for others with the idea that “oh but you, Darvio, you’re different”? The fact of the matter is, I’m not different. Yes I have a college degree. Yes I can turn it on and off when I speak “the queen’s English.” No I don’t have a criminal record. Yes I have a business. Yes I’m politically involved. Yes I’m in the media. But the fact of the matter is when I get pulled over and there’s an a-hole cop, none of that matters. It doesn’t matter who you are, how much money you make, what your profession is. You get stopped by the wrong cop and you’re still just another nigger.”
I watched Philando Castile die for nothing, only to be told by family members far guiltier of crimes than him that I should shut my mouth about “that thug.” I watched Eric Garner gasp for breath on a sidewalk and was then told that I was being disrespectful to the people who died for the very rights Garner was denied just by talking about him. Do you see the inconsistency there?
“There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.” – Howard Zinn
You can accuse all of us of being anti-military, but in the end all you’ll be doing is just spitting out baseless accusations towards heroes, their loved ones, and people who love this country and believe in what heroes died to protect just so you can wrap yourself in some false sense of superior patriotism you’ve convinced yourself is the flag. And you can love that fabric and the words of the National Anthem all you want, but I think I’ll take a knee and pray that this country learns to love all that our flag and our anthem represent, including the rights heroes died to protect that we so frivolously disregard when we watch a black man bleed out in front of his family and shrug.