Quarterback Colin Kaepernick got himself banished from the National Football League in 2016 because he took a knee during the national anthem to call attention to police violence against Black people.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said at the time. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Four years later, with the brutal killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, every decent American understands that Kaepernick was right. We all need to take a knee.

I’m thinking white folks have started to get it. I have seen Black Lives Matter signs all across the countryside in places I’d never expect to see them.

Now before you dash off an “All Lives Matter” letter to the editor, please take a minute to try to understand what Black Lives Matter means. It doesn’t mean Only Black Lives Matter, it means Black Lives Matter, Too. Those of us who will never be pulled over for “driving while Black” can never fully understand the systemic and institutional racism that people of color face, so we have to pay attention, listen carefully and try to be supportive.

I have had well-meaning friends point out that more white people are killed by police than Black people, which is true in terms of absolute numbers. Last year, police killed 1,004 people, 370 of whom were white, 235 Black, 158 Hispanic. But the rate of police killing between 2015 and 2020 was much higher for Blacks (30 per million) than for whites (12 per million).


A relative once told me he could end all police violence against African Americans with two words, “Yes, sir.” He thinks Black people bring on police violence by being disrespectful. Ah, the comfortable simplicity of the conservative mind in search of easy answers!

When you see on TV how police escalate a simple traffic stop or arrest for a minor offense into the use of deadly force, it’s hard to tell whether it’s training or temperament that’s to blame. Is it that they can’t think clearly enough to realize that killing is not justified or is it that they have such authoritarian personalities that they cannot abide being disobeyed? In either case, such police officers need to be weeded out.

What were those Minneapolis cops thinking when they stood by while one of their number took a knee on George Floyd’s neck until he died? The penalty for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill is not death. Bystanders pleaded with him to stop. That’s just cold-blooded murder. What in hell were they thinking?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, a Prouts Neck summer resident, kowtowed to Donald Trump’s divisiveness in 2016, warning players against taking a knee. But following the death of George Floyd, Goodell did an about face, though he did not mention Kaepernick by name.

“We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong,” Goodell said. “We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter. … The protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of Black players, coaches, fans and staff. We are listening.”

Colin Kaepernick might have been just another meaningless football player. Now he will be remembered as a civil rights pioneer, the Rosa Parks of the NFL.

Take a knee.

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