I’ve never written to any President before. I seriously doubt he’ll read this, but I’m going to publish it nonetheless.
You have indicated that you finds the actions of professional athletes protesting systemic racism and violence against people of color to be “a total disrespect of everything we stand for.” Much has been written these last few days about the appropriateness of the protest. I’m not writing today to express my opinion one way or the other.
You have called on the owners of the NFL to halt these protests by firing or suspending players who participate. Personally, I don’t believe this proposed solution would work. Colin Kaepernick began these protests over a year ago, and finds himself still unemployed, while more players seem to be protesting each week. After your call on the owners to act, many issued statements and stood in unity with the protesting players.
You have also called on fans to act to end the protests, by boycotting the NFL. This doesn’t seem to be a viable solution either. For one, the opinion of fans seems to be mixed, meaning that many of us are going to still watch the games, and some are even voicing support for protesting players. The NFL has proven in the past to be a strong enough business to survive major hits to revenue as demonstrated during previous labor disputes. There appears to be a lot of profit in an NFL franchise, that will enable teams to weather partial boycotts.
No, Mr. President, the owners and the fans can’t end the protests, but you can.
Despite all of your attempts to bluster, obfuscate, and redirect attention to claimed “disrespect” to our flag, our military, and our nation, these protests are about what one author has described as “America’s Original Sin.” These protestors are crying out for someone to address the oppression and violence against black and brown people in our nation.
There is a problem.
It is not getting better.
Our nation needs to unite behind strong leadership resolved to eradicate the problem. This is a cultural issue that is woven into the very fabric of our country. All change is difficult. Changing the culture of a society can only be accomplished through determined, unrelenting leadership willing to do that which is unpopular, but necessary. Even then, it is the rare leader capable of pulling it off. You are positioned to be that leader. Will you?
Here’s how you can start:
- Appoint and resource a commission to define and clearly articulate the problem and develop strategic solutions to begin addressing it. You know, like the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity? You’ve commissioned an organization to, at taxpayer expense, study a problem (alleged voter fraud) which has little evidence to prove that it actually exists, and all experts on the subject agree that to the extent a problem, has had no material impact on our nation. Surely you are willing, as one who aspires to unite our country and make it great, to invest at least as much to solve a problem that is real, heavily documented, and causing real harm to the fabric of our nation?
- Task the Attorney General to put the full force of the Department of Justice into eradicating the well-documented systemic injustice in our legal system. Refocus the resources he is aiming at employing to resurrect the failed “war on drugs” to instead get to the problems that are resulting in between 70 and 80% of African American men in major cities targeted by the drug war having criminal records that permanently sentence them to the lowest caste in our society. These are appalling numbers particularly when one considers this rather astounding fact:
Despite illegal drug usage rates that are essentially the same for whites and blacks, “black men have been admitted to state prison on drug charges at a rate that is more than thirteen times higher than white men.”¹
Black men are dying at an alarming, disproportional rate at the hands of our law enforcement officers. No citizen of this nation should ever have to fear an encounter with our police; sadly Philando Castile demonstrates that even when an African American driver is doing everything right, he can still be shot to death, and our criminal justice system will not hold the officer accountable. Your Attorney General can begin the reforms necessary to address mass incarceration, at your order.
- Hold a rally. Seriously! You are gifted at stirring a crowd to act. So why don’t you rally our country to unite to address some of these issues?
You’ve said your comments had nothing to do with race; that it “has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag.” If that is true, you can help these players respect our country and our flag, by addressing the issues that they feel so strongly about that they are willing to risk their livelihood, reputation, and the ire of their fanbase to raise. Marcus Peters, of my beloved Kansas City Chiefs, has pointed to our Pledge of Allegiance to ask for nothing more than what our country promises: Liberty and justice for all.
Sounds to me like he very much wants to respect our country and our flag–but he doesn’t see the country living up to its end of the bargain.
So what will it be, Mr. President? You can take positive steps to lead this country toward the unity and greatness you say you seek. Will you lead?
¹Alexander, Michelle. “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” (New York: New Press, 2012), 100.