If you don’t get ‘Take A Knee,’ you’re part of the problem

African-Americans are three-times more likely to be killed by police gunfire than European-Americans in this country.

That is among what Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell, countless players in the NFL and countless more in the WNBA are protesting. No one is protesting an anthem, a flag, or our military.

A protest that began with then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick saying he will not stand for the flag until it represents freedom and liberty for all equally has since had its image devolved into a perceived anti-American stance. This couldn’t be further from the truth, especially for Maxwell, the son of a former Army officer, who has stated his love for country and service firmly since kneeling for the first time prior to Saturday’s game at the Oakland Coliseum.

Said Maxwell:

“The whole point of this is to inform people that there’s a problem. The biggest platform we have right now as athletes is what we do on the field. The hardest part of acknowledging a problem is the lack of education. … This is about the people in this country, we all deserve to be treated equally and that’s the whole purpose of us taking a knee during the National Anthem.”

On Monday, Maxwell appeared in his first game since beginning his protest, and he received a wealth of support, both in tributes to his kneeling and the game’s most rousing ovation upon approaching his first at-bat. Sadly, the 26-year-old rookie said the reception was surprising, given the amount of hate he has received via social media — including deplorable use of racially derogatory pejoratives.

In addition to cheers, Maxwell also received hate. Most simply, calls of “stand up,” and “learn some respect.” One fan went so far as to turn his back to the field every time Maxwell came to bat.

But how many of those in opposition bothered to understand Maxwell’s pleas before so demonstratively condemning them? How many approached the facts instead of jumping on the bandwagon of an ill-conceived notion that the son of an Army officer would disrespect the country for which his father fought and the flag under which he was born.

Here are those facts.

As of Monday, 730 people have been killed by police gunfire this year. This number does not include cases like that of Freddie Gray — who suffered a mysterious fatal neck injury while in the custody of Baltimore Police — of non-gunfire related deaths in which police were involved.

Of those shooting deaths, 326 victims (45 percent) have been white and 164 (23 percent) have been black, according to the Washington Post. The races of 104 of the deceased are unknown.

While the number of white victims does outweigh the number of those black, the gap exceeds that present in the nation’s population, which, as of 2016, is 76.9 percent white and 13.3 percent black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This means that though African-Americans make up barely one-eighth of the country’s population, they account for nearly one-quarter of police shooting deaths.

Furthermore, of the approximately 12,000 police shooting deaths in this country since 2005, only 76 have resulted in the officer being charged with either murder or manslaughter, resulting in just 26 convictions, according to CNN. Therein lies the problem.

This is the impetus behind the protests — that a seemingly flawed system allows police to kill with little or no provocation without facing justice. About 1,000 people die each year by the gun of a law officer in the United States, but an average of just six of those officers face charges, and only two are made to serve punishment.

The concept that a person, no matter their position within our society, should face justice for their actions is not a difficult one to understand, and shouldn’t be a difficult one to support.

Yet, this stance, which by all intents and purposes is perfectly justifiable, has been denigrated as an anti-military demonstration, dissolved by those who, at best, cannot muster a viable argument against an improvement within the system and, at worst, by those with power who wish to maintain a racially off-centered status quo.

Steelers offensive lineman and Bronze Star Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva, who became a flag of the anti-protesters when he alone emerged from the stadium tunnel for the National Anthem prior to Pittsburgh’s game Sunday, explained to media following the game that his solitude was nothing more than a miscommunication. He also added that he, as a veteran, takes no disrespect from the protest:

“I take no offense. I don’t think veterans at the end of the day take any offense, they actually signed up and fought so that somebody could take a knee and protest peacefully, whatever it is that their hearts desire.”

Pat Tillman, a Fremont native and former Army Ranger who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, has had his image and decision to ditch the NFL to enlist politicized as well. His widow, Marie, told CNN, said his goal was to unify, adding that he would have been supportive of this protest:

“The very action of self-expression and the freedom to speak from one’s heart — no matter those views — is what Pat and so many other Americans have given their lives for.”

Maxwell also spoke of actual Flag Code violations which are left unmentioned daily.

Still, Maxwell, like Kaepernick, has received threats over exercising his constitutional right to speak.

Maxwell, declined to address those threats thoroughly, but did say most included either disparaging slurs or wishes of bodily harm. But he has remained steadfast in his love for his country and its freedoms, even in the face of hate. He has also faced the fear of being ousted from the game to which he has devoted himself, like Kaepernick, without hesitation, saying that his beliefs are “bigger than a monetary standpoint, this is bigger than the uniform I put on every day.”

That is what makes Maxwell the perfect person to become Major League Baseball’s first protester — perhaps the latest in a lineage of athletes to bring about communal change. Like Jackie Robinson, who was hand-selected for his own military service and ability to see the destination through the weary road, Maxwell has shown the same proclivities, the duties that come with his power.

So, if he isn’t to use the podium he has earned through talent and hard work, what is he to do to get your attention? What would you like him to do?

Stand up? Maxwell, Kaepernick and the countless others are standing up — for those who call for change on a daily basis but will never heard as they lack a voice within this public forum.

Learn some respect? By exercising the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and embodied by the flag, the proud protesters are showing more respect to their country than any song ever could or will.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.