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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Emmett Till and Philando Castile died for your sins

Philando Castile was shot five times while sitting with his seat belt buckled, a friend and her child in the car.

Emmett Till, 14, flirted with a white woman and was lynched

I am not a football fan.   i began my journalism career on the sports desk of a morning newspaper and became aware that many athletes in contact sports suffered debilitating injuries.   I realized that many football fans were attracted to the sport because they liked to see men smash together and limp or get carried off the field.  The irony that we outlawed dog fights but made a thriving business out of getting humans to bash and lash each other was not lost on me or other sports writers. 

The sports editor I worked under had often served as a boxing referee and had made many friends in the sport.  Old boxers often dropped in on him and they would repair to the saloon that occupied a ground-floor niche of the newspaper building to talk about old times.  Almost invariably, these men showed signs of being "punch drunk," which was how we referred to the brain damage they had suffered.  That and the behavior and attitude of many "sports fans"  focused my thinking on the role of sports in our society.  I enjoy sports that emphasize the use of skill and athleticism, but disdain those sports--and their spectators--that attract those who enjoy the infliction of violent damage.  

That's where you have to confront some tough facts about humanity.  We are divided.  The division goes far beyond political preferences.  Or religion. Some people love violence, either directly or vicariously.   They revel in ill will.  Other people seek peace.  They try to maintain a sense of good will.  Some people enjoy maiming and killing.  Others get pleasure from peaceable and friendly pursuits.  The two groups live for opposite purposes.  They have directly opposing values.  This divide is the basis for the cultural divide.  There is no way the two groups can reconcile their differences.

These differences underlie the silly, amazingly stupid argument about whether football players should stand during the national anthem.   In July 2016 a black man in Minnesota, Philando Castile, was pulled over while driving with his girl friend and her little daughter in the car.  Castile, who had a permit to carry a gun, told the officer.  When Castile reached down to his pocket, presumably to extract his driver's license,  the officer blasted him five times, while the girlfriend sat next to him and the child sat in the back seat.  The girlfriend recorded part of the episode on her cell phone. The officer said he feared for his life, and was acquitted of any wrong doing.  It was this incident which motivated Colin Kaepernick to refuse to stand for the national anthem as a protest to the unarmed or unthreatening black men being gunned down by police in the streets of America.  

The NFL men who kneel during the national anthem are paying reverence to victims who have had their lives taken in acts of inequality and denials of justice that are the actual rejections of the flag and everything it is supposed to stand for.  They are not showing disrespect to the flag, but are showing sorrow that the country and its flag have betrayed its people.  During 2016, the police killed 258 black men.  Thirty-nine of them were unarmed.  They were shot down as if they were rats in the town dump.  Those who kneel during the national anthem are, in fact, honoring the quest for freedom, equality, and justice that the flag symbolizes.

Those who say that the kneeling is an affront to the principles that America professes and those who fought for those principles are the ones who besmirch the national honor.  The NFL football players who kneel have stated clearly and precisely that they kneel to call attention to the racist acts of violence that have besmirched the flag.  When Trump and his minions say that the kneelers are dishonoring the nation and those who have served, they are indulging in one of the many malicious lies they engage in to aggravate the racist divide that they have revived and widened during Trump's reign of malice.  Trump and his hate squads are fanning the lust for blood and death in the people who love and live for moments of atrocity.  Watching football players deliver concussions is not enough.  Trumpists defame the kneelers in the hopes that they will be fired and left to roam the streets where anxious and avid guns await them.  

When Vice President Pence walked out of the Colts-49ers game Sunday,  he emphasized the lie that the kneeling was disrespect to the flag and its meaning and put his support behind Trump's endorsement of the Nazis at Charlottesville and the shooting of black people in the streets.  

The killing of Philando Castile was an act of the revival of the racial violence that tortured and killed Emmett Till.     Instead of using the overt hatred of black people as the motive,  the shooter used the currently acceptable pretext that he was afraid for his life.  And that gave good reason for all black people on the streets of America to fear for their lives.  The lynchers of Emmett Till were acquitted od charges against them after an hour of jury deliberation.  Castile's killer was also acquitted by a jury of manslaughter and endangerment  of lives.  

And so the flag flies and people honor it, condemn the kneelers, and celebrate the racist renaissance of America,  as it puts all people of color on notice.  

When the flag has come to stand for the freedom to kill in the name of white supremacy,  it may be time to take it down,  fold it up, and give it a decent burial.  And then people of good will may try again to build a nation of liberty, justice, and equality, and design a flag that, in fact, honors those qualities.  And does so in remembrance of those killed under the old flag by those who said they were serving it.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States