WASHINGTON ― Colin Kaepernick took his greatest stand by refusing to get on his feet.
The San Francisco 49ers quarterback did not stand during the national anthem at a preseason game on Friday. He bluntly explained his act of protest to NFL.com’s Steve Wyche the next day, saying he would not “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
“To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” Kaepernick continued. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Backlash was swift. A white 49ers fan tweeted a video of himself burning Kaepernick’s jersey as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played in the background. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump urged Kaepernick to leave the U.S. if he couldn’t respect the American flag. Kaepernick was quickly deemed a disgrace by some football spectators, labeled an athlete who has no right to speak out against injustices facing Americans of color because of his wealth. He has also been viewed as “disrespecting” his fellow Americans and being ignorant of the sacrifices of U.S. soldiers.
But veterans get shot by police, too. Here are seven cases in which veterans of color, most suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, were killed by law enforcement.
Mark Salazar was killed by police on May 5, 2012, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, after three officers responded to reports that Salazar was standing in his front yard shooting a gun. One of the officers shot Salazar after he allegedly pointed his firearm at them (though a family member said this was never mentioned in police reports). Salazar died a week later.
Nikki Edison, a childhood friend of Salazar’s who wrote to him frequently during his tour in Afghanistan, told The Huffington Post she appreciates Kaepernick’s actions.
“This needs to be taken seriously. There are people who are out here dying for little to no reason and these police officers are not being held accountable,” she said. “They just get to do what they wanna do with a free license. It’s basically like a license to kill and no one can do anything about it.”
“To have someone like Colin Kaepernick saying these things and bringing light to the situation and giving people a voice that otherwise wouldn’t be heard, it’s amazing,” she added.
After 26-year-old Sgt. James Brown, an active-duty soldier, turned himself in to serve a two-day DWI sentence at El Paso County Jail in Texas in 2012, he never returned home.
Brown called his mother and said that officials were trying to extend his sentence to seven days. He asked her to wire him the money to pay the court fine ― and she did by morning, but it was too late. Brown had died.
The soldier, who had served two tours in Iraq, noted on his entry papers that he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
A video obtained by KFOX14 shows that something caused Brown to begin bleeding in his cell. After he refused to speak with a jail guard about what was happening, guards in riot gear rushed into Brown’s cell. At least five guards grabbed Brown, who did not appear to be resisting, and held him on the floor until he collapsed. Throughout the ordeal Brown told officers that he could not breathe at least 20 times, according to KFOX14.
Officers gave Brown a sedative and put him in a face mask after taking him to the infirmary.
“Please take the mask off. I cannot breathe,” Brown says before asking for water and being given less than 3 ounces. The officers eventually begin washing pepper spray out of Brown’s eyes, but he informs officers that the faucet is cutting off his air supply. Brown is then placed in a wheelchair and taken back to his cell. He is left on the floor of the cell nude, as his breathing shallows and he is seen no longer blinking.
Attorneys for Brown’s family told KFOX14 that no medical assistance was requested during the ordeal.
Denis Reynoso, a 29-year-old Dominican Army veteran with PTSD, was shot and killed by police in 2013.
Reports say he had been behaving erratically before grabbing an officer’s gun and firing at police.
Parminder Singh Shergill
Parminder Singh Shergill, a 43-year-old Sikh man who served in the Gulf War, Germany and Iraq, was shot and killed by two police officers in Lodi, California, in January 2014.
Shergill, according to his family, had paranoid schizophrenia, and was also suffering from PTSD and depression. He was shot 14 times for allegedly lunging at officers while holding a knife. (His family has a different account of the events.)
The district attorney’s office found police to be legally justified in their actions.
In 2011, Stanley Gibson, a 43-year-old black man and disabled war veteran, was off his anti-anxiety medication. Gibson, who was reportedly acting paranoid, was trying to drive back home to his new apartment but ended up in the wrong complex. Residents called the Las Vegas police, who shot the unarmed Gibson as he sat in his car.
“To them he’s just another dead soldier or a dead black man,” Rondha Gibson said of her husband’s shooting.
Guerena was asleep at the beginning of the raid and, according to his wife, grabbed his rifle when he heard the sounds of someone breaking into his home. Guerena thought they were burglars. Police saw Guerena with the gun when they broke open the door and began firing. Officers claimed they saw a flash from Guerena’s gun, but ballistics show the weapon was never fired.
Jonathan Montano, a 65-year-old veteran, died of a stroke after police beat him for trying to leave a Loma Linda, California, VA hospital in 2011. Montano had been waiting in the hospital for four hours before deciding to leave and go to a different one. Instead of letting him walk out, hospital nurses allegedly called VA police.
“The summoned VA Police Department police officers then stopped Jonathan Montano from leaving the VA Hospital in Loma Linda, by tackling him to the floor, slamming his head on the floor, and kneeing and stomping on his neck, and otherwise brutalizing and restraining him,” a lawsuit filed by Norma Montano, the deceased’s wife, says.
”This kneeing and stomping on his neck by the VA Police Department police officers caused the dissection of his carotid artery, that resulted in immediate (or very soon thereafter) blood clotting, which resulted in [his] suffering a stroke,” the lawsuit continues.
Twenty-nine military veterans were killed by police in 2015, according to a tracker by The Guardian ― and at least eight of them had PTSD.
The deaths of these veterans make the retorts that Kaepernick is disrespecting soldiers even more preposterous.
The quarterback is merely calling attention to the systemic injustices faced by all people of color in America ― including veterans who aren’t white. Veterans of color have also been killed during interactions with police.
If anything, those who are concerned about Kaepernick’s comments should look deeper into issues affecting veterans ― such as the rates at which police kill mentally ill people and how veterans of color have been treated historically.