Colin Kaepernick tried to sound a warning about Tulsa, Oklahoma, but many of us did not want to listen.
A lot of Americans said the NFL quarterback ought to shut up. They said he was dishonoring the country and disgracing the flag by taking a knee on the sidelines during the national anthem before games.
They were wrong, and they need to stop shouting and listen. Kaepernick is trying, peacefully and politely, to stoke a conversation that we must have.
Terence Crutcher, 40, was shot once and killed by Tulsa police Officer Betty Shelby Friday evening. Two recordings were released by Tulsa police Monday, one taken from a dashboard camera and another from a police helicopter.
They show Crutcher, with his hands up, following police orders, then being Tasered, then being shot to death.
At the time he was killed, he was too far from officers to menace them physically. Police say he did not have a weapon on his person or in his truck. And the audio recording from the helicopter reveals another officer saying, “That looks like a bad dude, too ... he might be on something,” when the video seems to indicate nothing of the kind — unless you think any large black man is a “bad dude” who is “on something.”
Crutcher’s sister said, “That big bad dude was my twin brother. That big bad dude was a father. That big bad dude was a son. That big bad dude was enrolled at Tulsa Community College. That big bad dude loved God. That big bad dude was at church singing with all his flaws every week. That big bad dude, that’s who he was.”
The department has opened a criminal investigation. The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation.
And Kaepernick has been trying to get us to acknowledge that this happens to unarmed black men too often, and that we need to change the dynamic that makes it so. Crutcher might not turn out to be an angel when his past is revealed, but he ought to be alive.
This killing brings to mind the shooting death of a black man named Walter Scott at the hands of a cop in South Carolina in 2015. Scott was unarmed. He wasn’t a threat. The cop shot him in the back. But it also brings to mind unarmed black men killed by police officers in Missouri and Staten Island and all across this nation.
This is what Kaepernick said about his stand: “I am not going to stand up to 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. There are bodies in the street, and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Shelby has been placed on paid administrative leave.
Kaepernick’s stance is not one I would take. The good of this nation so outweighs the bad that I’m comfortable saluting the flag and singing the anthem, even as we address its faults.
But I’m also not partly black, like Kaepernick, who is wealthy and was raised by a white adoptive family, and thus probably has a deeper sense of race in this nation. He knows more about this than I do, about how this country looks and feels and acts toward a young black man. And it’s not my place to deny his lived reality, to scorn or upbraid him for feeling as he feels, or to shout him down.
A great country is not afraid to listen to anyone. A great country is strong enough to let everyone speak his or her mind, to even welcome the opinions of those who disagree.
Kaepernick wanted to address the dynamic that can cause killings like Crutcher’s. What would have to happen to make those who’ve shouted him down listen, if the killing of another unarmed black man isn’t enough?
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.