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Rights are what our Flag Stands For

Colin Kaepernick is the in the news again and being criticized in ways inconsistent with freedom.

For us to enjoy free speech we must protect that right among people with whom we disagree. Justice Hugo Black once said, “The freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment must be accorded to the ideas we hate or sooner or later they will be denied to the ideas we cherish.”

I respect our flag and National Anthem, but I respect the right to protest more. After all, it is because of our rights that our flag deserves respect. The soldiers that served, were wounded or died, did so for the freedoms our flag represents. Protesting is what we do instead of flying planes into buildings. A country that requires respect of the flag sounds more like North Korea than the United States.

For too many, the principles signified by our flag remain an aspiration rather than reality. If one believes there is sufficient evidence some police officers overstepped the bounds of justifiable homicide I have to ask myself, who has violated the principles of liberty and disrespected our flag more — the officer who takes the life of an unarmed person or the player that kneels during the Anthem?

To be clear, not all shooting incidents sensationalized in the media are unjustified. No matter how unfortunate the outcome, if a person waves a gun around and refuses to disarm themselves then officers are justified to fear for their lives and should take action. During incidents of imminent danger, an officer only has a split second to decide and act. If an officer acts rashly out of fear or hate, scrutiny is warranted. If scrutiny is absent or insufficient then protest is warranted. If a protest does not provoke thought and debate it is of little to no consequence.

I do not have all the answers, but I do know the plural of anecdote is not data. Yes, there is still racism in the United States. Yes, the overwhelming majority of Police officers are good people doing a very risky job and deserving of our respect. Yes, there are bad police officers out there and plenty enough evidence to merit scrutiny of law enforcement systems.

We should constantly examine police practices anyway. It is folly to believe we have ever done enough or designed systems so perfectly that no one ever does anything wrong. We do not know everything we should about the causes, prevention or responses to criminal activity and should therefore always seek to improve the systems we have. In a free society, civilian oversight of law enforcement is warranted by the very nature of the undertaking.

I believe everyone deserves equal treatment under the law. Murder, unreasonable search and seizure, and excessive force are already illegal so we may not need more laws. If police or anyone evades the law then the system of accountability needs scrutiny also.

I submit that what needs changing is not the laws of men (or women of course), but the conscience. That is something that can only be changed by conversations like this one. If a person is racist, history clearly demonstrates we are unlikely to change their mind by law or decree. We might change their behavior, but not their mind. That, they must do themselves. For them to do so requires some persuasive effort on our part. It is unlikely a mind will change in one sitting and even less likely that systems or culture will change by simply being told to do so. Concerned people may have to repeat themselves many times in debates such as this before a thinking person has enough to gnaw on. More minds are changed by gnawing than by hearing anyway. Citizens and good officers must apply persuasive efforts on bad officers in the hope that bad ones change themselves from inside or are removed from the job.

I do not think of myself as shrill and try to avoid it. However, shrill Americans still have a persuasive influence. After all, the shrillness of those opposed to slavery and Jim Crow definitely contributed to their demise.

Respect for government, the flag and the anthem should not be required, it should be earned. Every day. To do otherwise is to saw on the limb we stand on.

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