At least 15 black people have died during encounters with the police since San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protesting police violence by kneeling before NFL games, based on numbers compiled by The Guardian.
Kaepernick’s decision to sit or take a knee during the national anthem first drew attention after his team’s Aug. 26 preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, when he told NFL.com that he was “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Since then, Kaepernick’s continued protest has drawn considerable criticism from politicians, police unions, pundits, other professional athletes and many on social media who have opposed both his message and his method of conveying it.
But the problem Kaepernick wants to highlight has continued. And on Monday, it was back in the news again, after police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, released multiple videos that showed the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher.
The videos show that 40-year-old Crutcher, like so many other black men, was unarmed with his hands in the air when police officers shot and killed him as he returned to his car, which had stalled in the middle of a roadway. The videos run contrary to the department’s initial statements about the shooting, which claimed that Crutcher had ignored officers’ warning to raise his hands.
Overall, police have killed at least 67 people since Kaepernick’s protest began, according to The Guardian’s database. Roughly 22 percent of the victims have been black. Police have killed more than 780 people so far in 2016, according to The Guardian’s numbers. At least 193 of those people ― or about 25 percent ― were black. Of the 15 black people killed since Kaepernick’s demonstration started, at least 11 were shot, according to The Washington Post’s tracker of fatal police shootings.
The white officer who shot Crutcher, Betty Shelby, was placed on paid administrative leave while the department investigates the case ― another issue Kaepernick highlighted when he spoke out against police killings.
“To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” Kaepernick said. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick’s message has spread across the sports world since the start of the NFL season. Players on a number of NFL teams ― including the Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans ― joined his demonstration during the first week of the NFL season.
The Denver Broncos’ Brandon Marshall, who has taken a knee during the anthem, responded to the Terence Crutcher video by saying such situations are the “exact reason we’re protesting.”
Soccer star Megan Rapinoe has also knelt during the anthem before both National Women’s Soccer League and U.S. Women’s National Team matches in recent weeks. And NBA players Nick Young and Stephen Curry have spoken out in support of Kaepernick, with Young saying that he may kneel before the anthem once his season begins next month. High school football players across the country have joined in as well.
Some of the protests have drawn the ire of police. In Miami, the union that represents the Broward County Sheriff’s Office called on the department to stop providing security details for Dolphins’ games after four members of the team knelt during the anthem last week. “In certain professions,” the head of the union said, “an individual’s freedom of speech must take a back seat to the organization or government entity that they choose to represent.”
The NFL Players Association, which has stood behind Kaepernick’s right to protest, fired back at that statement Monday. “Don’t we stop being the land of the free and the home of the brave when a citizen is asked to take a ‘backseat’ for expressing his freedom by those sworn to defend it?” DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA’s executive director, said in a statement. “Players don’t stop being men and citizens just because they are wearing a jersey.”
And while many have questioned how a black athlete could qualify as oppressed, recent cases highlight that Kaepernick and other black athletes are also at risk of experiencing police violence.
James Blake, a retired tennis player, was misidentified as a robbery suspect and tackled by NYPD officers in September 2015. The same year, NBA player Thabo Sefolosha’s leg was broken in an altercation with NYPD officers; Sefolosha is currently suing the department. John Henson, a player for the Milwaukee Bucks, said employees of a high-end jewelry store locked the door and told him to leave before police arrived. And in 2011, police in Florida told former NFL running back Warrick Dunn they pulled him over because he “had the characteristics of people transporting drugs and guns,” he said.
Kaepernick, meanwhile, continued his protest before the 49ers game on Sunday, and picked up more support this week. On Monday night, hours after the Tulsa Police Department made the videos of Crutcher’s death public, three members of the Philadelphia Eagles raised their fists throughout the national anthem.