When Kaepernick took a knee, 12-year-old Tamir Rice had been fatally shot by a Cleveland police officer while playing with a toy pellet gun in a park near his home. Sandra Bland already had been found dead in her jail cell after being taken into police custody under suspicious circumstances for failing to signal a lane change. “There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable,” Kaepernick said in 2016. “People are being given paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.”
What happened to Kaepernick—from being ostracized by the league to seeing his cause suddenly appreciated—is no different from what happened to the former Olympians John Carlos and Tommie Smith or the former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. Carlos and Smith were sent home from the 1968 Olympics for raising their fists on the medal podium to bring awareness to the unfair treatment of black people in the United States. They were national pariahs when they returned home, and only years later, long after history proved them right, were they widely accepted as agents of social progress. The same applies to Ali, who was arrested and stripped of his boxing titles for standing against the Vietnam War. Over time, Ali became one of the most beloved athletes in sports history. But many of those who later praised Carlos, Smith, and Ali were absent when it really mattered.
Unfortunately, since Kaepernick was shooed away, there hasn’t been sufficient progress with the issues he spoke out against. Derek Chauvin, who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes before killing him, was eventually arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, but the three other officers who were on the scene—all of whom stood by and did nothing as Floyd died on the pavement—have yet to be charged. All four were fired.
In Arbery’s case, no arrests were made for months. He was shot to death in February by white vigilantes—one of whom was a former officer in Georgia’s Glynn County Police Department as well as an investigator with the local district attorney’s office. He and two other men have now been charged with murder. If a jarring video of Arbery’s death hadn’t been made public, they probably would have faced no consequences.
Ibram X. Kendi: The American nightmare
Taylor, a 26-year-old black health-care worker, was killed in her own apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, in March after a botched police raid. “Somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend,” her boyfriend told a dispatcher on a 911 call. The case is now under investigation by the FBI. So far, none of the officers involved has been fired or arrested.
The rage spreading across the country because of this gross injustice isn’t because the system is broken. It’s because the system is working just as it was intended.