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“You better be disgusted”: Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr becomes voice of reason on Kaepernick, police killings

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Kerr’s statement last week about the current state of racial affairs in this country redirected the national Kaepernick conversation back to where it needs to be — the body count.

NBA: Finals-Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Any good coach leads, and leads well.

Even the casual basketball fan knows the Warriors have been at the top of the league in recent years, winning the 2014-15 NBA Championship, having star guard Stephen Curry win back-to-back MVP awards, and smashing a bazillion records along the way.

Any superstar team has to have its share of egos, though, and it is clear that the Warriors have a wild mix of personalities to contend with – from somewhat reserved Klay Thompson to very outspoken and emotional Draymond Green. All of that does not cohere by accident, but by design. It takes thought, deliberation, effort and exemplary leadership – from the top, down. And, now, on social issues, Kerr is leading by example once again.

The issue, of course, is the man featured on the cover of the latest issue of Time magazine: Colin Kaepernick.

In a tension-filled climate in which everyone has an opinion on whether Kaepernick’s National Anthem protest is right or wrong, patriotic or unpatriotic, disrespectful to the military or not – often expressed through the kinds of vitriolic either-or statements that come with entrenched beliefs – Steve Kerr has emerged as the measured voice of reason:

“I understand people who are offended by his stance,” he said. “Maybe they have a military family member or maybe they lost someone in a war and maybe that anthem means a lot more to them than someone else. But then you flip it around and what about non-violent protests? That’s America. This is what our country is about. It’s a non-violent protest.”

Kerr is a purposeful speaker. He is gracious, even in loss, and appears to choose his words carefully. Beyond that, he often puts his responses to reporters’ questions into a philosophical context much bigger than basketball. For Kerr, basketball is a part of life only; it is not life. And, perhaps, it is this broad perspective, grounded in Zen-like balance, that allows him to maintain and share a world view that is greater than self – one American society at-large would benefit from adopting.

Kerr lost his father to violence when he was in college. Perhaps this is what gives him the compassion to identify with the suffering of others. Perhaps it is the life lessons learned from loss – even if the chief lessons are heartbreak and learning to cherish every moment of life – that, first, allow him to identify the current ills eating away at the fabric of our society and, second, inspire him to educate others on the benefit of accepting the existence of multiple truths.

In other words, it’s quite alright to disagree with Kaepernick’s protest. But objection to his kneeling during the National Anthem must end there. It is his right under the Constitution of the United States of America to carry out this protest and doing so does not make him unpatriotic or un-American. In fact, that Kaepernick is using his platform to speak for those whose voices have been silenced in the streets by police bullets – their blood staining the gravel red – exemplifies what patriotism is and ought to be.

NCAA Football: Miami at Appalachian State Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Equality versus supremacy

Every time Kaepernick takes a knee, he is attracting attention to the inescapable truth of systemic racism and injustice. He is forcing the American people to look in the mirror and confront their biases and insidious beliefs – whether conscious or unconscious – that black people and other people of color are inherently bad, dangerous and up to no good.

But it’s a bitter pill to swallow for some, especially for those who benefit from the advantages their privilege affords them. So there is legitimate reason for some Americans to be angry. Kaepernick and more and more athletes every day – along with protestors in cities where black people have been slain by police officers – are demanding change and disrupting the status quo.

Kaepernick and his comrades have exposed the fact that some Americans fear equality because equality means losing advantage. Equality, however, does not mean disadvantage. So for people to oppose equality demonstrates their preference for supremacy, even to the point of having supreme power over who lives and who dies.

This will no longer be tolerated.

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“Nobody’s right, nobody’s wrong,” Kerr said.

This was his way of emphasizing that the National Anthem spectacle really is not about Kaepernick and others taking a knee, linking arms or raising a fist — but the reason Kaepernick bowed out of the National Anthem in the first place. People who are ignorant, ill-informed or eaten away with hate seek to divert attention from the real problems at hand, but not Coach Kerr.

In other words, both arguments about the flag and the National Anthem are true and valid. However, in a black-or-white society – where things are simplified to extremes of good or bad, nice or mean, sweet or sour – many struggle to conceptualize this and, therefore, argue over things that truly do not matter.

Kerr continued:

Ignorance is bliss

But people are not disgusted, as Kerr states they should be.

Many are not willing to admit there is a problem.

Take Facebook user Maggie Dietrich who shared her condemnation for an American Airlines flight attendant who wore a Black Lives Matter pin on his lapel. “Disgraceful,” she remarked.

No matter what Dietrich may or may not think about Black Lives Matter, the organization, what about the concept behind it? Is it also disgraceful that every day in America people are executed in the streets – not only before they are arraigned, tried, and convicted of crimes but before they are even arrested?

Model Kate Upton shared her thoughts on Instagram about four players who knelt during the National Anthem on September 11th, calling their actions “a disgrace” and “disrespectful.” She ended by stating: “… if we come together, the world can be a better and more peaceful place.”

If “coming together” means bearing witness to, but doing nothing about, the indiscriminate police violence against a group of people that is so extreme the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued a damning report in 2014 over the treatment of African-Americans in this country, then no thanks.

NFL Hall of Famer Mike Ditka told Dallas’s 105.3 FM that he doesn’t “see all the atrocities going on in this country that people say are going on,” that he has zero respect for Kaepernick, and that if Kaepernick doesn’t like the country he should “get the hell out.”

Ditka played for the Chicago Bears in the 1960s, smack dab in the middle of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.

Human rights activist Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965.

And iconic civil rights leader Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

This was a time of mayhem in the country during which citizens fought for basic human rights and just laws, and protested the violent treatment of blacks by police – just like today. Since Ditka was a professional football player during this time, we know he wasn’t living under a rock and, therefore, should have a modicum of a clue.

Moreover, Ditka surely owns a television. So it is difficult to imagine that he has not stumbled upon a news clip of a man standing with his arms up being shot by a police officer for no reason at all. Denying there is a problem is to deny the history he lived through, which is the worst kind of willful ignorance.

The man who was shot with his arms raised above his head, who Kerr mentioned in his statement, was Terence Crutcher.

Crutcher was a brother and son and father and student. He did not resist arrest, and his arms were up in a pose of surrender even though he had committed no crime. He was stopped along the highway because of trouble with his vehicle and the police officers happened upon him on their way to a crime scene. These events make clear that Crutcher died only because of the color of his skin.

So, to Mike Ditka, who doesn’t “see all the atrocities going on in this country that people say are going on,” here’s your answer: 76. The number of African-Americans killed at the hands of police between 1999 – the year Amadou Diallo was shot to death by four police officers – and 2014.

But 2015 and 2016 have been very active years in the business of law enforcement officers killing black citizens. There have been three killings of people of color by police in Los Angeles – in the last week alone. So 76 is old news and the number of black lives snuffed out by police is much higher now.

Brutal imagination

“He looks like a bad dude.”

These are the words that were uttered by a person in a police helicopter as Terence Crutcher lay bleeding to death in the street. From the vantage point of an airborne helicopter, all that could be seen was a black body. If there was an expression on his face, surely it was fear after having been shot. So what about Terence Crutcher – and black men in general – make him a “bad dude”?

Fear of the black body is one of the lasting legacies of the repulsive history of slavery. Because the people kidnapped from Africa and enslaved on this continent were – under the Slave Codes – not viewed as people but property, the white plantation owners treated them as such.

Slaves were at constant risk of sale due to the financial losses of the plantation owners or as punishment. Families were split apart and the women were at risk of sexual exploitation, with zero recourse. The Slave Codes made it illegal for a slave to testify in court. And killing a slave was not considered murder because slaves were not considered human.

Murder of blacks by whites in power – with impunity – should sound familiar. In the 1800s, it was plantation owners doing the killing; now, it is police officers.

Activists Protest For Justice After Police Shootings Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Whenever a police officer is caught on cellphone video killing a black person – whether unarmed or armed (which really should not be used as justification for killing someone given the Second Amendment and it being legal to carry weapons in most states, even openly) – the defense always is: “I feared for my life.”

The police officers feared for their lives even though the man’s hands were held up high above his head.

They feared for their lives even though the person was unarmed.

They feared for their lives even though the person had called them for help.

They feared for their lives even though the person disclosed he was legally carrying a weapon.

They feared for their lives even though someone told the officers the would-be victim had traumatic brain injury (TBI), stated he was not dangerous and pleaded with the officers not to shoot.

They feared for their lives even though the child was twelve.

Or …

Did they really fear for their lives because the citizens they ran into had black or brown skin?

Fear of black runs deep culturally. The color black has come to mean bad, dangerous, deadly or scary, while the color white is associated with innocence and purity. These ideas are reinforced in movies, video games and television shows, where the bad guys and villains are people of color and the good guys are white. Just take the latest Tim Burton film, for example.

These societal norms are not givens. They are social constructs derived from the country’s history of slavery. But the idea that black is bad is so insidious that many struggle to conceptualize that a black person killed by police actually could have been and probably was carrying out mundane tasks, like returning from a store, driving with a busted taillight, or flagging down help after experiencing vehicle trouble.

So, the core problem is the assumed guilt that comes with having black or brown skin. And this is what must change for this country to move forward. On a shared planet, each human has a duty to challenge their beliefs and actions that perpetuate these toxic ideas.

But if the changes don’t happen by conscience, then they must happen by force of law – and swiftly – starting with police officers. No longer can we allow the inherent fear of black and brown to result in the deaths of innocent citizens that leave wives without husbands and children without fathers.

Thank goodness for law enforcement officers like Sergeant David Robison.

And when you cheer for the Warriors this season, remember that many of your favorite players are African-American men with wives, children, parents, siblings and friends. But when dressed down and traveling without an entourage, they are just black men.

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