After Black activist Aleta Clark approached two Black Southside of Chicago police officers to discuss police brutality and racism, the officers did not swiftly state “Blue Lives Matter”, chastise Clark, or ask why she politicized a political issue. Instead, the officers took a photo with her.  In the photo posted to her Instagram account, all three people took a knee and raised their fists. Then news broke that the officers would face a reprimand for political speech in uniform. (As if unjustified killings of unarmed Black people are not a form of speech on their own.)

Clark spoke up on their behalf. NBC News reported her response.

“This is my message to those officers — I stand behind you,” she said. “You showed us that even with a shield, even working for the police department, that you are still human and that you still recognize that racism still exists and that police brutality is real. And you stood against that.”

The Chicago Police Department’s investigation of the photo and circumstances surrounding it follow a weekend of actual protests in the NFL (and co-opted capitalistic photo opportunities, but that’s a story for another day). The investigation follows President Donald Trump’s demonstration to Americans in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico that their safety and hurricane recovery fell second in priority to his primary need to name-call Black professional athletes who publicly denounce state-sanctioned Black death.

It bears remembering that a conscious, young Black professional athlete, Colin Kaepernick, began his peaceful protest when others were afraid to join.

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“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” he said. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

The issue of whether or not to knee, and how people who are not directly in the lines of fire respond to the knee, illuminates recurring American themes: racism, complicity and violence. Some people are so infuriated, fearful and upset that they want to take whichever actions send the resounding message to American institutions that enough is enough.

And yet, some people are so privileged that covert and overt forms of oppression do not follow them. They despise peaceful protests, while they overlook the root of the protests. In their curated worlds of control and dominance, the visual cues of resilient Black people, and appropriately de-centered allies, bothers them. But, for many Black people in America, patriotism fits us about as appropriately as a right shoe on a left foot.

So as people in real life, cyberspace and everywhere in between continue discussing the “acceptable” bounds of protest, hip-hop artist Lecrae’s one-year-old tweet still captures the essence of the problem.

“Take a knee… people riot… Take a bullet … people quiet.”

 

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