No refuge could save the hireling and slave: a post about the sports weekend

The sports world had a pretty eventful weekend. The slate of NFL games was actually good for once, the Knicks finally traded Melo, and Dwyane Wade was bought out freeing him to sign with a contender. Oh, and the president took time off from goading North Korea into nuclear war to castigate uppity black athletes. His racist word salad led to an avalanche of athletes losing their shit on social media.

Imagine that: the white supremacist president telling sport team owners to fire their largely black workforce for daring to impugn the self-evident majesty of the USA [1]. But it backfired, because the usually spineless league management and owners correctly determined which way the wind was blowing. Their public relations team no doubt informed them of the developing shitstorm, and they predictably realized that they would have to issue their own mealy-mouthed condemnations against a president whose candidacy many of them supported. To say they were going after low hanging fruit is an insult to low hanging fruit.

This is yet another example of Trump taking right wing talking points to their logical conclusion: if players not standing for the anthem is unpatriotic, and unpatriotic acts are unconscionably bad, then owners of any entity should be able to fire their employees for their heinous acts. Because fuck the first amendment: it shouldn’t even count for egregious acts like disrespecting America/military/flag/president. Love America or leave it. Maybe even be forced to leave it.

It’s a virtual certainty that Trump is both unwilling and unable to understand the reasons for the protests which go back to Colin Kaepernick last year. He has essentially co-opted the, for lack of a better word, movement and made it all about himself and by extension, racism. No one should forget that the protests began during his predecessor’s reign. Kaepernick’s cause, at its root was confronting systemic racism as manifested in police violence. Obviously Trump is a piece that fits snugly into the larger puzzle of historical and especially contemporary US racism.

***

The anthem protests were dying. The past two years have seen many players do it for a game or two, decide that was sufficient to get the point across, and cease. Sunday was different as players decided en masse to act. A lot went into the optics: should one sit on the bench, kneel, raise a fist, clasp arms with teammates, stay in the locker room, or stretch? And then, how does one explain their rationale to the media afterwards? Grossest of all was scumbag Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones kneeling with his team BEFORE the anthem, and then standing. What a wonderful show of unity in these divided times.

One NFL writer (I forget who unfortunately) stated on Twitter that players told him off the record that team management were ordering players to stand going back to last year. In a league where there are no guaranteed contracts, careers lasting around 3 years, and players being one injury away from unemployment and a lifetime of physical pain, it should surprise no one that so few players indulge in symbolic protest. Especially if the protest can be seen as disrespecting the totemic representations (flag and anthem) of the childish narrative of America being the greatest country in the history of the world [2]. And especially if the league they work for has wrapped itself in a cloak of unrelenting support for the American military industrial complex. If one isn’t good enough, the risks taken can be career-ending, as Kaepernick has learned.

It’s ironic that Trump’s tantrum might be the catalyst for Kaepernick’s return. Despite being unofficially blacklisted from the league, this is a very good time for a quarterback-needy team to sign him. Or not. One dipshit owner used the outpouring of negative fan mail as the reason for not signing him as a backup in the offseason, funny since they had no problems employing a serial domestic abuser. One can only imagine the renewed vitriol owners will receive from their bigoted fan base, egged on by their messiah. At any rate, Kaepernick may remain a sacrificial lamb, but perhaps for not much longer.

***

The events of this past weekend has led to the renewal of infantile arguments over what is and isn’t patriotic: “protesting is patriotic!” kneeling for the anthem is unpatriotic!” Both sides accuse the other of fundamentally misunderstanding their viewpoint. How nice it would be for a player to say, “you know what? How about fuck patriotism, fuck the flag, and fuck the national anthem“[3]. Which is kind of funny in a way, because the bigots screaming at traitorous black athletes assume this is what they’re specifically protesting. And the protesters reiterate that no, that’s not why.

What’s particularly striking is how this is breaking down upon racial lines amongst the players. I only know of one white player, Seth DeValve of the Cleveland Browns, who has kneeled or sat prior to yesterday. This is despite requests for solidarity from white players. One can only imagine if it has more to do with cowardice or misguided, simplistic patriotism. Surely it’s a mixture that varies from player to player [4].

This week, some locked arms with teammates (this isn’t really new) or placed a hand on a shoulder in solidarity. And even after what transpired over the weekend, I don’t believe more than a handful of white players chose not to stand. Annoying but unsurprising.

***

The larger question is how much this shit even matters. It likely won’t change too much. It seems we’ve run up against an impenetrable wall in the fight for true social justice. Solutions need to confront the systemic problems we face and I’m not convinced change will come from within the system, however one wants to define it politically and economically.

In regards to police violence, the catalyst for Kaepernick’s protest, shootings in 2017 are roughly on pace to match the total from 2016 [5]. It should surprise no one that sitting down for the national anthem has failed to solve this enormous problem. Moreover, there were ACTUAL PROTESTS about a cop shooting in St. Louis this past week. I don’t believe I heard one word about it from the direction of the NFL or NBA.

Such is the gravity of Trump that he is able to turn the narrative into a broader response to racism and white supremacy simply by injecting himself into the discussion. That pivot away from police violence may not be the worst thing in the world because actual racists and white supremacists are having a bit of a moment right now.

As noted, when this style of protest occurs on game day it is mostly symbolic. This should not be taken to denigrate the good work athletes such as Kaepernick do off the field. I really do think it’s important to stand up to racist assholes. Especially the one sitting in the White House and his adoring base. I can quibble about it not going far enough, but at this moment we need to keep screaming about racism’s prevalence and resurgence. Athletes likely are feeling a sense of catharsis that accompanies confronting injustice. Hopefully they keep it up, as the hummingbird-like attention span of the president shifts elsewhere.


[1] This is, of course, on the heels of not inviting the Golden State Warriors to the WH, and calling for Jemele Hill to be fired. I sense a pattern here but it’s so hard to put my finger on it.

[2] This is a narrative that the players almost unanimously subscribe to. No one, aside from perhaps Kaepernick, has really questioned American exceptionalism.

[3] “No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

[4] I’m a huge Packer fan and I was pretty bummed Aaron Rodgers stood, especially after a post on Instagram that was interpreted by some as a sign he’d kneel. I’m very biased and believe him to be far more thoughtful than brand-bots like Russell Wilson, good ‘ol boys like Drew Brees, and quasi-literate rapists like Ben Roethlisberger:

I ask him [Rodgers] what he thinks about that battle — the actual subject of Kaepernick’s protest. As always, he pauses to collect his thoughts. “I think the best way I can say this is: I don’t understand what it’s like to be in that situation. What it is to be pulled over, or profiled, or any number of issues that have happened, that Colin was referencing — or any of my teammates have talked to me about.” He adds that he believes it’s an area the country needs to “remedy and improve” and one he’s striving to better understand. “But I know it’s a real thing my black teammates have to deal with.”

All of that said, I’m pretty disappointed he chose to stand and not support three of his teammates that didn’t.

[5] See here and here

Police officer indicted in the shooting of Sylville Smith

Against all odds, Dominique Heaggan-Brown will be charged with first-degree reckless homicide in the shooting of Sylville Smith on August 13th. In the immediate aftermath, the police and mayor claimed there was unequivocal video evidence that Sylville was armed and pointing a gun at the officer. Later, once the unrest had died down, it was admitted that the footage wouldn’t “answer every question.” And now, Heaggan-Brown is charged, which is in addition to the unrelated charges of 2nd Degree Sexual Assault and Solicitation. It’s impossible to know how much the latter charges factored in the decision to indict on the murder charges. A cynic might wonder if the authorities decided he was an acceptable sacrificial lamb due to his other alleged transgressions. A different police shooting, that of Jay Anderson, with questionable video evidence resulted in no charges, and for some reason, far less notoriety. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also include another local story from last week about an officer involved death in which there’s clear video evidence of federal agents hitting a man with a car, and the agency in question claiming the man shot himself.

As welcome of a development as this Heaggan-Brown’s indictment is, it’s almost impossible to be optimistic for a conviction. If Michael Slager, who clearly murdered Walter Scott, can get away with it, what hope is there?

The shooting occurred four blocks from our house. The burned down gas station was seven blocks away. The trashed liquor store is two blocks away. During this, well-meaning but patronizing friends and relatives offered for my wife and I to retreat to the safety of the suburbs. How privileged we were to have even had that option.

Below is what I posted to Facebook the day after the shooting (and only lightly edited). The intended audience was those who were surprised or confused by the events, and any closet bigots I had on my friends list. It was my way of putting into words everything I wanted to express about the situation.


I post so rarely, but I thought an incident like last night warrants something, seeing as we live a mere six blocks from the events. That’s pretty close! We didn’t really notice anything amiss until around 9pm, when we saw redirected city buses on our street. Even then, it didn’t really register aside from absentmindedly noticing sirens, which isn’t uncommon on a Saturday night. At about 9:30pm our local neighborhood app alleged that the gas station was on fire. Standing on the balcony, we couldn’t hear anything. Right before going back in, I heard gunshots and later found out it was from someone firing into the air. Aside from that, and more sirens than usual, our immediate neighborhood was quiet. As a true testament to the, in my mind surreal sense of normalcy of our block, white women were walking their dogs early this morning as if there weren’t riots the previous night. I mowed my lawn in peace listening to a Neil deGrasse Tyson podcast as our cats relaxed contentedly in their catio. So we’re fine, and thanks for your concern.

But none of the above is really the purpose of my first FB post in, I dunno 2 years? I just want people to understand that this did not happen in a vacuum. It’s ridiculously easy for people (some, but not all closet or openly racist) to shake their heads at their perceived social inferiors and lament something to the effect of this not being what MLK wanted (I’ve seen white people say this (please note you shouldn’t say this)).

Did you know that Milwaukee is the most segregated city in the country? (https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2016/01/25/back-in-time-60-years-americas-most-segregated-city.html).

And that this segregation isn’t entirely accidental – and in addition to its historical legacy is still something that is happening? (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/10/remember-redlining-its-alive-and-evolving/433065/)

It’s damn near impossible to convince some people that systemic racism is an actual thing, despite the wealth of scholarly research that emphatically confirms how persistent and insidious it is. Moreover, an understanding of this is tied to the founding of America and its abhorrent treatment of black people (among other classes of people, obviously). This isn’t ancient history – the end of the civil rights era didn’t magically usher in an era of pure equality and such thoughts are almost childishly simplistic.

This brings me back to my initial point about how the events of last night did not happen in a vacuum. Solely focusing on specific, discrete situations neglects the overarching systemic issues of historical institutionalized racism and the concomitant associated traumas (i.e. poverty; child abuse & neglect; substance abuse; transient living situations; familial incarceration; domestic violence; nonexistent access to effective schools, etc.). Dealing with any one of them is enough to shatter the hope of any child. Moreover, the aforementioned traumas are additive in nature and largely temporally ongoing events. I hope it sounds like these are exceedingly difficult things to overcome because they really are. Anyone invoking the “bootstraps” myth, or thinking how they’d totally turn out fine growing up poor and black is full of rancid shit. Even being able to move out of the hood to leave such problems behind is exceedingly difficult. I implore everyone who has any connection to Milwaukee to read the profound, heartbreaking book “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond, a Harvard sociologist who did the field work for the book in Milwaukee.

(As a brief side-note, I’ve chosen not to bog down this already overlong post with sources, but these are easily found – one can certainly find counter-arguments, but I’d be stunned if they were backed by anything remotely considered peer-reviewed research (Breitbart, Fox News, memes, and your feelings don’t count).

The final topic I’ll address is the relationship between the police and the poor black community mere blocks from my house. It’s unfortunate (aside from the loss of life) that the proximate cause is going to be used by those who think that cops can do no wrong to disparage and dismiss legitimate social concerns. This too is connected to the historical relationship between black communities and police (again events like this don’t happen in a vacuum, yada yada). It turns out police have been pretty rough on black communities since its inception (http://plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/brief-history-slavery-and-origins-american-policing). Certainly their relationship can best be described as abysmal up until the civil rights era. Important steps have been made since, but it’s nowhere near sufficient to repair generations of perfectly valid distrust. It’s long been thought that police kill a disproportionate amount of black people, but until recently nothing close to a comprehensive accounting existed. The Ferguson events changed that and its since been definitively confirmed thanks to the monitoring of nongovernmental entities, the ubiquity of social media and cell phone camera technology. The minuscule percentage of police that will even have to go to trial is something also not to be discounted. (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/31/the-counted-police-killings-2015-young-black-men).

Police killings have long been overdue for their spotlight in the national consciousness and it is no longer ignored. Combined with prominent national killings, Milwaukee has had, among others Dontre Hamilton and Jay Anderson, that for whatever reasons didn’t achieve the same level of notoriety. The community that participated in the unrest yesterday is undoubtedly not unaware.

But, but police kill much more white people, you say! This is actually true. I view this primarily as an argument used by those who posit an unearned sense of white stoicism to police violence (“Hey we don’t get mad when they kill us!”). But it’s misleading and reductive to merely state that there are more incidents of police violence against whites than blacks, which is what one should obviously expect with whites comprising 64% of the population, while blacks comprise only 13%. In other words, a blanket statement of the gross amount tells us nothing statistically significant. As the aforementioned Guardian article states: “young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers in 2015.”

I prefer not to wade into how often police violence is justified and how that can be determined. To my eyes, it’s philosophically murky. I will say I don’t have too much of an issue with an officer whose life is actually in danger using murder as a last resort. This undoubtedly happens. As for last night, the police claim and the media are reporting that the young man was shot while fleeing and armed – these are the only concrete details known. It hasn’t been disclosed whether or not the police knew who he was beforehand; why he was pulled over; if they knew or had reason to believe he was armed; where on the body he was shot (it’s going to look bad if it’s in the back) and if he pointed a gun at the officers. Hopefully the body cameras can clear this up. If not, there are many reasons for the police to obfuscate what really happened.

So as a thought experiment, and to conclude this long-winded (and no doubt little read) essay, I’m going to attempt to tie everything together. You have a community that’s been historically kept from achieving the American Dream that is sold ubiquitously in our entertainment and media. In Milwaukee, affluent communities are mere minutes away with a level of comfort, safety and material possessions the adjacent poor can only dream of. They are people who have experienced punishing traumas. They, or someone close to them, have experienced police abuse and misconduct that never involves the offending officers receiving consequences. This feeling is reinforced with events from around the country. A young man is shot by police on a hot summer Saturday afternoon in August. A crowd gathers. Friends and family of the victim come and are overwhelmed with emotion. Rumors spread about the manner of death. The veracity of the rumors (which may or may not be true) are irrelevant, as anger spreads through the crowd. The face of the state, the police, are standing right there. Maybe your anger and pain gets the best of you and you throw a brick through a cop car’s window. With that, the fuse is lit and the combination of everything I’ve written about comes to a head, and explodes. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Or, hey, maybe black people are just inherently violent and destructive and stupid. That’s pretty easy to wrap your head around since it involves little to no thought and a complete lack of empathy.

I’m neither intelligent nor arrogant enough to claim I have answers. I don’t. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried – I’m not that naive. But overall, I guess we’re okay.

DAPL activists kept in dog kennels

Not sure if someone else posted about this already. From the LA Times:

Protesters said that those arrested in the confrontation had numbers written on their arms and were housed in what appeared to be dog kennels, without bedding or furniture. Others said advancing officers sprayed mace and pelted them with rubber bullets.

“It goes back to concentration camp days,” said Mekasi Camp-Horinek, a protest coordinator who said authorities wrote a number on his arm when he was housed in one of the mesh enclosures with his mother, Casey.”

Meanwhile, the State is very proud of their magnanimity:

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kerchmeier said he was coordinating with Standing Rock officials to assist protesters in recovering teepees and other belongings, calling it a “a great example of communication, collaboration and cooperation.”  He added:  “I am very proud of our officers” who “responded with patience and professionalism and showed continuous restraint throughout the entire event.”

This happened in 2016 in America.