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Nancy Armour, USA TODAY
Published 9:56 a.m. ET May 27, 2020 | Updated 2:36 p.m. ET May 27, 2020
SportsPulse: Athletes took to social media to voice their anger over George Floyd’s death, with many resurfacing photos of Colin Kaepernick’s protest over criminal and social injustice. USA TODAY Sports’ Nancy Armour reiterates Kaepernick’s protest was never the issue in this country.
I hope all those so indignant at Colin Kaepernick taking a knee on the field are as outraged by the white Minneapolis police officer putting a knee on a black man’s neck.
Sadly, I doubt that will be the case.
Oh, there might be some who watch the horrible video of George Floyd’s last moments and finally understand why Kaepernick protested. Finally see the casual disregard our society has for the lives of black and brown people. Finally comprehend the toll the legacy of slavery continues to exact on this country.
“Do you understand NOW!!??!!??” LeBron James said on Instagram on Tuesday night, posting a photo of the officer pinning Floyd down with his knee alongside one of Kaepernick protesting.
Kaepernick had posted a similar photo to his Instagram story.
But too many will simply ignore Kaepernick’s message once again. They’ll find a way to justify the actions of the police officer who continued kneeling on Floyd’s neck Monday night even as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe and witnesses begged the officer to stop. Yelp about Kaepernick disrespecting the troops or “what about” his choice of T-shirts or socks.
As if anything justifies someone who is supposed to “protect and serve” so cavalierly taking a life.
It’s been almost four years since Kaepernick began protesting police brutality against people of color, as well as the endemic racism at the root of it, and Floyd’s death shows we haven’t learned a damn thing.
This wasn’t, as some will no doubt claim, a one-off by four rogue cops who were fired Tuesday. Floyd is dead for the same reason Kaepernick remains blackballed from the NFL: Many who hold power in America refuse to acknowledge that those with brown and black skin are treated differently. Seen as “less than.”
That, or they know it and they just don’t care.
“Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in a Facebook post Tuesday, before the four officers were fired. “For five minutes, we watched a white officer press his knee into a black man’s neck. Five minutes. When you hear someone calling for help, you’re supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic, human sense.
“What happened … last night is awful. It was traumatic. It serves as a reminder of how far we have to go.”
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A reminder, too, of the opportunity that’s been squandered since 2016, when Kaepernick first took a knee.
There had been several high-profile cases of people of color dying at the hands of law-enforcement officials. Few had resulted in punishment.
In protesting, Kaepernick was trying to hold up a mirror to white America. But we had no interest in seeing our most obvious flaws, flaws that have only become more pronounced since then.
So long as white America refuses to recognize our privilege, we will continue being a danger to people of color. And I don’t mean privilege in the economic sense. I mean privilege in the ability to go about daily life without being judged at first sight, or having the innate fear that your mere existence will bring you harm.
The privilege to barbecue without having the cops called on you. Or swim at a pool. Or ask for directions. Or go for a run.
It was outrageous enough that Central Park Karen – her real name is Amy Cooper – had no qualms about lying to the police, hysterically telling them an “African American man … is threatening myself and my dog.” All because Christian Cooper had the audacity to ask her to obey park rules and put her dog on a leash.
But Floyd’s death a few hours later highlighted just how heinous Amy Cooper’s actions were. People of color do not get the benefit of the doubt when there are conflicting stories. They are not offered the chance to explain their side. They are seen as a threat until proven otherwise.
The consequences can be, and have been, deadly.
Does every person of color wind up dead after an encounter with police? No. But enough do that we cannot ignore it or pretend there’s not a problem.
Kaepernick’s protests cost him his career. Our refusal to address the reasons behind them cost George Floyd his life.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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