The venerable police of my city are bracing for backlash

My hometown of Milwaukee has a bit of history of police violence, which I believe is pretty well known at this point. Less well known is a history of making professional athletes feel, let’s say unwelcome. With the story of Sterling Brown, who plays for the Bucks, these two aspects converge. Earlier this year Brown committed the heinous crime of parking across two disability parking spaces at Walgreens, followed by a confrontation with a cop which led to him being tased and arrested. Parking in a disability parking space is a dick move, but one I would say is somewhat mitigated by the fact that this occurred at 2am – I doubt the parking lot was very full. Nonetheless, I would hope most agree it’s not a tase-worthy offense.

[As an aside, Brown was released from custody at around 5am. Later that same day he played with a busted face and tallied 4 points and 9 board in a win. Pretty bad ass IMO. Also, the game featured this awesome Giannis dunk:

Let’s have a look at what Milwaukee Police union president Mike Crivello had to say shortly after the incident:

Special treatment for special people [regarding perceived mayoral interference].

You put your hands on and/or strike a police officer who is doing nothing more than what he is sworn to do, what he is paid to do, what all other citizens should want him to do, you need to go to jail and you need to at least have the charges referred to the district attorney’s office.

Hm. Sounds like he had some insider info. Or is a huge piece of shit. Or both! By this point in the saga it wasn’t known exactly what happened.

Bucks fandom was largely supportive of Brown. However, there were, of course, rats crawling out of the sewer spewing barely disguised racism. How dare Brown get uppity with the noble policeman whose only goal in life is to keep the city safe! I don’t think many were Bucks fans. For a little background, a lot of white people in Wisconsin hate the Bucks and the NBA in general, while at the same time lionize the more fundamental-driven [read: less black] college game. Many of these upstanding citizens seemed to heartily enjoy a black professional athlete of a league they don’t like being put in his place.

Up until yesterday, it was perplexing how tight-lipped everyone had been, from Brown, to the Bucks, to the authorities. After the hoopla within a few days of the event, next to nothing came out. It appeared that the story would get swept under the rug, with many theorizing that Brown was being an asshole while the cop overreacted. It appears this might not be the case:

Brown did not appear combative or threatening when officers questioned him about a parking violation in January, according to two sources who have watched the video. The sources asked that their names not be used because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about it.

[…]

“This could be bad,” said one source who watched the video. “The player doesn’t appear to be provocative at all.”

[…]

Police officials have been preparing community leaders for the release of the body-camera footage by showing it to selected local officials, including a closed session of a Common Council committee.

[…]

Assistant Police Chief Michael Brunson Sr. referred to the Brown video in a speech at a Milwaukee church Sunday during the city’s Ceasefire Sabbath.

“There’s going to be a video that’s going to come out soon, in the next couple of weeks, involving the department, and I’m going to honest with you, we’re going to need your support during the challenges,” he said, according to video posted on WITI-TV.

What the nature of the anticipated “backlash” will be, who knows? Will it only amount to mere backlash? Could it morph into unrest? Or perhaps a riot?

Earlier this month, cops beat the shit out of a kid at a mall in Wauwatosa (a lily white suburb that uncomfortably shares a border with the city proper (as distinct from adjacent lily white suburbs safely insulated from the terrors of the inner city)). The “backlash” thus far has merely been bad PR. Brown’s case will likely result in the same, but with the added annoyance (to the MPD) of national attention. But it will all eventually fade away, as all stories of this nature do.

One wonders if this would have received even local attention were it not for Brown’s cachet as a professional athlete. God only knows how many stories like this there are that don’t receive any publicity whatsoever. I’ve thought about this often over the years and it always makes me feel angry, sad and hopeless.

ETA: Right as I posted this I found out Brown is suing the MPD.

A confession

Last fall, shortly after starting this blog, I became a theist. It’s a secret I feel I must now reveal.

In 2013, the Milwaukee Bucks selected Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick of that year’s draft. At the time He was largely unknown. He had only recently took up basketball, while His family scraped to get by as illegal immigrants in Greece. Bucks fans only had grainy video footage from high school-sized gyms to go on. Since then, His meteoric rise has felt simultaneously improbable, though in retrospect inexorable. He’s become a darkhorse MVP candidate at the very young age of 22. It was only last year that casual fans became aware of the latest stage of His metamorphosis – no longer were basketblogger nerds and Bucks fans the only groups to joyously witness His continuing ascension.

I know, I know – you could not care less. But the Cult of Giannis is an evangelizing faith. It is my duty to speak of the Good News:

Someday, someone will take he and his family’s story and make it into a shitty movie. I can’t wait.

I apologize to those inadvertently subjected to an irreverent sports post, with nary a whisper of the problematic social issues roiling beneath the surface (i.e. the refugee/illegal immigrant experience in Europe, another Horatio Alger story as a supposed example of how exemplary the meritocratic West is, etc.)  .

Anyways, let us pray:

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