I’m a 10-year PSL-owning, high-fiving fanatic who has often used Carolina Panthers games as a release. As someone who always put his hand over his heart, I’m often irritated watching people talk through the anthem and play on their phones while merely waiting to yell at the flyover. Last year those things still irritated me.
With many people I know boycotting the NFL last year, I had a choice of selling my tickets or eating the money. I chose neither. I instead attended the games, wore a shirt of Colin Kaepernick kneeling, and held up my fist quietly as a peaceful protest around racial inequities in criminal justice before engaging in the game with those who sit around me. This wasn’t about disrespecting my grandfather, uncles, cousins, friends, and other veterans who serve this country. I stand every time they honor a soldier, even if others sit.
Like new Panther Torrey Smith, when it comes to the anthem, I’d rather discuss why than what. Working in addictions, I’ve learned that there has never been a war on drugs, but there has been war on black and brown bodies via drug possession. Addiction does not discriminate. But the way we police, arrest, prosecute, and sentence folks in the drug market certainly does. If white drug possession were policed and prosecuted with the vigor of black/brown possession, the amount of single white families would grow exponentially.
This discrepancy is a logical extension of an unacknowledged origin of policing in the South, which was as a night watch to retrieve runaway slaves and prevent revolts. We also shouldn’t forget that the 13th amendment had a big loophole, making “slavery and involuntary servitude illegal except as punishment for a crime.” The ideology of controlling black/brown “savages/animals” is part of our nation’s history and core.
A few years ago, one of my most respected colleagues, a white woman, went to a heroin summit and returned excited. “They finally are getting it,” she said. “They said they realize that we can’t arrest our way out of it and are trying to focus more on treatment.”
I felt like I was telling her Santa wasn’t real when I gently said, “Of course they get it now. It’s your kids they don’t want to arrest, cage, and brand as ‘felons’ for the rest of their lives the way they’ve done black folks for decades.” The light bulb came on over her head. “Of course,” she said.
At 16, I attended an all-black-male assembly that included having a police officer tell us the safe way to handle being pulled over. As an adult supervising a group of white teens, I watched a police officer tell them how to minimize trouble if an officer caught them drinking. I learned how to survive a routine stop. They learned how to minimize consequences after breaking the law.
I’ve seen black fathers, mothers, and children without guns shot and killed while white mass shooters are taken safely and even get Burger King. I’ve been profiled in my own driveway after walking my dog to a house that I’ve owned for 13 years.
Love of country requires rigorous honesty and work for improvement. My heart is full for my country. My fist is raised for it to be better.
This piece first ran at CharlotteObserver.com.
Featured Photo by Stephen Brashear/AP