The shunning of peaceful dissent

The Observer editorial board

Colin Kaepernick and two others knelt during the national anthem last October.
Colin Kaepernick and two others knelt during the national anthem last October. AP

Colin Kaepernick deserves some new consideration right now in a highly-polarized political environment that has already led to too much violence. The National Football League quarterback took a knee during the national anthem this past season to highlight what he believes are pervasive injustices.

His protest isn’t worth reconsidering because his views are popular, but because so many Americans are offended by them. It’s not because he’s right, but because so many believe he is wrong. It’s because he did not pick up a gun or smash the window of a police cruiser. Many say his act disrespects military sacrifice. But the most effective protests in American history were bothersome by design. That’s why the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century worked.

That’s also why we need more Kaepernicks and fewer men like James T. Hodgkinson, who apparently targeted Republicans for assassination during a congressional baseball practice, nearly killing Republican Rep. Steve Scalise and wounding four others, including two Capitol police officers. The country would be a better place had Jeremy Joseph Christian followed Kaepernick’s lead instead of allegedly harassing a 16-year-old Muslim girl and her friend in Portland and stabbing and killing the men who intervened.

Had Dylann Roof or those involved in violent protests at U.C. Berkeley chosen Kaepernick’s path, nine Charleston families would not have this past week experienced a second anniversary of a church massacre and there would be less concern about college students’ ability to handle dissent.

And yet, Kaepernick has been shunned by NFL teams. There are not 32 better starting quarterbacks, and surely not 32 better backups. He is still in his prime and only a few years ago led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl, but owners are making a different kind of business decision. They don’t want a public relations nightmare on their hands.

The decision to apparently blackball Kaepernick has been cheered on by football fans and non-football fans alike. But that’s short-sighted, for it sends a message that peaceful protest is unacceptable during a period peaceful protest should be encouraged more than ever.

Of course, there are many different kinds of protests that are neither violent nor show an intentional lack of pride in an American symbol. In Charlotte last fall, violent protests overshadowed the more frequent peaceful protests in the wake of the Keith Lamont Scott shooting. In Raleigh, Moral Monday protests led by Rev. William Barber have had a profound effect on the state’s political conversation.

Even those protests are problematic to some, as illustrated by Barber’s recent ban from the N.C. General Assembly. Many people simply don’t like hearing perspectives they don’t share. But our political disagreements aren’t going away, and those disagreements are too often being expressed in vitriolic and sometimes violent ways. That’s why it’s more important than ever to encourage peace even as we honor dissent.

It’s right to air political differences. The way to protect that American tradition is to motivate our opponents to do so without violence. Like him or not, Kaepernick has shown us one way.