The right to dissent …

There are many things one would hope their president would be concerned about in today’s world: mass shootings, natural disasters, health care, tax reform. And, yes, race relations in the United States. But the way President Donald Trump has responded to the ongoing debate regarding NFL players taking a knee is both disappointing and disconcerting.

It all started last year, when San Fransisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee to protest police killings of unarmed black people — an issue this country has struggled with for many years and needs to address now, before more lives are lost. Kaepernick’s protest followed in the footsteps of some pretty impressive  figures, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The similarity was noted by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., in a tweet to the president.

Protest is integral to the United States and its founding. After all, the U.S. was established in protest to the practice of taxation without representation at the hands of the British.

There have been protests throughout our history, against slavery, for voting rights, against war and for peace. Protesting is fundamental to a free society. And now NFL players are expressing their dissatisfaction with race relations in this country — doing so peacefully and hurting no one. It’s something they have every right to do.

Some have argued that they are employees of the NFL, and as such, shouldn’t be protesting while at work. Perhaps, but it’s through protesting publicly that people have the most impact. After all, who protests when no one is looking? Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose? And, just as importantly, the NFL doesn’t seem to prohibit such behavior in players’ contracts, making them free to protest against that which they deem unfair.

Now, one might not agree with their message. One might think that police officers are simply doing their jobs — jobs laced with danger — when they become embroiled in these highly publicized blue-on-black shootings. We appreciate that — and we thank all policemen and women for their bravery, their protection and their sacrifice. But we also recognize that countless minorities face harsher justice than their white counterparts. That, surely, is grounds for dissent.

We’re not talking about riots, or mass demonstrations that lead to violence. We’re talking about peaceful protest.

Again, the issue here isn’t whether one agrees with what’s being protested, it’s with our fundamental right to protest. That  includes football players kneeling during the National Anthem. And it certainly includes them locking arms — sometimes with team owners — in protest of Trump’s blasting them as unpatriotic SOBs. 

Sure, the president has a right to say those things (though we wish he wouldn’t). It’s unpresidential and churlish. But we must recognize that players have just as much of a right to respond — so long as no one is hurt in the process. 

NFL players want equal treatment among all men and women, among all races, when it comes to law enforcement in the U.S. We would hope that cause could be supported by people regardless of color. Certainly we hope every citizen’s right to challenge the status quo remain protected under the law. Remember, there may come a day when you feel there’s been an injustice and want your voice to be heard. Peaceful protest is a quintessentially American way to do that.

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