On Monday, September 17th, the Town Council president of North Smithfield, John Beauregard, filed a motion to ban the purchase of Nike products in the town. Beauregard felt inclined to publicize this proposal after discovering Nike’s recent decision to sign former NFL star, Colin Kaepernick, to their “Just Do It” campaign.
The ad for their campaign reveals a close up of Colin Kaepernick with the words, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” in white letters across his face. This photo has gone viral across all social media platforms, causing people across the country to either side with Nike and support this message, or, like John Beauregard, misinterpret its intentions to speak up about police brutality and boycott the company. In a vote of 3-2, Nike products were banned in North Smithfield.
Colin Kaepernick is very well known for his former role as a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. He is even more so known for his decision to kneel during the national anthem before each game in attempt to protest police brutality across America; a decision that cost him his job. This is also the decision that caused John Beauregard to establish the ban.
The “Star-Spangled Banner” is the United States national anthem. As many Americans and avid football watchers know, it is sung before each game as a tradition. This is a time in which players and fans alike are expected to proudly stand with their right hand over their hearts in honor of our country. The song signifies the freedom within America and bravery of our countrymen. Colin Kaepernick, however, has a different view of this anthem.
In the lyrics of the national anthem, the final lines state, “for the land of the free, and the home of the brave.” This is usually followed by excessive clapping and then shortly after, the football game commences. It is a common consensus that this is, in fact, the home of the brave. Brave American men and women fight for our country every day. The first part: “for the land of the free,” however, implies that this country grants freedom to all its citizens no matter what. If you are black in America, that is unfortunately not the case. Why would Colin Kaepernick stand for a national anthem that symbolizes freedom for all when not all Americans are truly free in this country?
African Americans in this country experience the lasting effects of racism daily. After slavery ended in 1865, prohibiting the buying and selling of black people as chattel, a new form of enslavement began its course: Jim Crow. The Jim Crow era, which lasted up until the 1950s, was a time in which laws were established to enforce racial segregation. During this period, African Americans faced extreme brutality at the hands of white America. Their education system had very little economic support, they were only given access to low paying labor intensive jobs. On top of this, they were unfairly arrested, brutalized, and lynched at high rates solely for being black. Lynching consisted of hanging, burning, and beating black bodies to death with no repercussions.
In the 1960s, the Civil Rights Era took its course, in which figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and many other notable activists fought for racial equality and true freedom for people of color. Enough was enough. It is now 2018. Although we have made progress in the right direction, it is evident that these issues are far from over as African Americans in this country are still stereotyped, targeted, killed, and incarcerated at mass rates.
Regarding law enforcement specifically, the structure of our criminal justice system has never been in favor of black Americans. According to the Bureau of Justice, people of color are often targeted, profiled, brutalized, and killed by police officers. What is truly distressing is these officers rarely face the consequences for taking innocent lives. What does this say about our country when human beings can get murdered and, because they are of color, justice is nowhere to be found? Now, that is not to say that all police officers are responsible for this. There are many amazing police officers in this country who know how to do their job and do it well. This does; however, speak to a larger societal issue. In a system in which this happens with grave frequency, especially a system that is here to “protect and serve,” it can be argued that this has been a longstanding issue with law enforcement as a whole, rather than just “a few bad apples” in specific departments.
In cases whereby black men are killed by officers, it is interesting to note that many of the officers claim the use of excessive force was justifiable because they encountered a “suspicious” character or “feared for their lives.” The only option for them was to shoot to kill. However, as we have gathered from recent cases, in most of these cases, the suspects have been unarmed. What eminent danger could one have been in to feel that, although the person they are pursuing is not armed, the use of a firearm is the best course of action?
This is not a secret: Race has become an extreme basis by which we perceive those around us. African Americans in this country are frequently viewed through a lens that is saturated by stereotypes and uninformed past ideologies. The media helps promote this message as well. We are often exposed to black men as criminals, gangsters and murders on the news and in popular culture. We cannot deny that the culture in which we live shapes the very fundamental beliefs that make us who we are. Whether or not this stereotyping is intentional, exposure to people of color in racialized contexts can come into play in people’s encounters with them. This is when problems arise, and police officers reach for their guns. This is when faultless lives are lost. This is unfair. This is wrong. This needs to stop. This is what Colin Kaepernick was and still is bringing attention to.
Colin Kaepernick has done nothing but exercise his first amendment right to express himself. Is he not free to express his rage regarding the systematic dehumanization of African Americans in our country? Is he not allowed to protest police brutality, and the innocent lives being lost without any justice? What about the disproportionate rates of black men in the prison industrial complex? Why was he let go from his job for speaking his mind? Why is he still being attacked?
Nike is using Kaepernick in this ad because he is an advocate for racial equality and freedom for all. They are trying to bring increased awareness to important ongoing societal
issues. By doing so, they are hoping to create a more inclusive society, which is something that is long overdue. Why is there so much backlash for simply wanting things to change, for wanting to be a part of that crucial change?
The message in Nike’s ad is not meant to attack anyone who has fought for this country, nor is it doing so. Although there was an instance in where Kaepernick wore socks with police officers as pigs on them, a very suggestive statement, it was coming from a place of rage concerning excessive police force against the black community.
Colin Kaepernick’s original message was one of peace and equity; one of hope in the future; one of true freedom for all. He was even encouraged by a veteran who fought for this country to express himself in this way. Nike was inspired by Kaepernick’s message of wanting to bring awareness to social injustice and more importantly, law enforcement’s mistreatment of people of color in our country. Nike is using their platform to spread this message, in hopes that people can grasp its importance. And what are they met with? People like Paul Beauregard, who, because they are not directly affected by social injustices, do not understand the extent to which people of color suffer physically, mentally, and emotionally in this country.
Paul Beauregard, who served as a state trooper for 25 years, believes that this ad is disrespectful to the “102 officers killed on duty in the United States so far this year (Brown Daily). He also goes on to say that Colin Kaepernick has not sacrificed anything; that it is in fact the officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of the law. What he does not understand is that the ad is not disagreeing with this. These officers have sacrificed a grave deal to keep American citizens safe. Despite this, it does not have anything to do with the much larger issue within the criminal justice system: the mistreatment of black Americans.
Due to the backlash North Smithfield faced on a national scale, they have already decided to repeal the ban. According to the Brown Daily Herald, Paul Beauregard stated, “I am not doing this because my views on the subject have changed. I am only doing this because of the backlash to my town, the businesses in my town, the schools and all the residents. I don’t want to drag anyone into my fight that did not choose to be in it.”
A week later, on the afternoon of September 24th, 2018, the council in North Smithfield unanimously voted to reverse the Nike resolution. Mr. Beauregard did not make this decision because he has finally grasped the true purpose of Nike’s ad and their choice to use Colin Kaepernick as the face of that ad. He is doing it because he does not want his personal beliefs to negatively impact those in the town. The fact that this decision became national news should have made him realize the decision was wrong, but unfortunately his views remain the same. Although Beauregard states, “this resolution had nothing to do with race,” it very clearly does when considering the facts.
“The message that is sent is that the town of North Smithfield does not care about police brutality and racial inequality,” said NAACP Providence President. Whether or not this is true is up for debate.
This “land of the free” is unfortunately not free for all. Colin Kaepernick is trying to change this, and Nike using the “Just Do It” campaign to create important conversations about race relations in the United States. Those who do not support this do not understand the extent to which this issue has historically been a detriment to the black community. They do not understand the disproportionate rates of African American men killed by police officers, or the fact black men only make up 6% of the United States population, yet 40% of them are in jail. This is not freedom.
We must take advantage of our democracy and come together to peacefully promote egalitarianism. Don’t underestimate the power of your voice. In America, people should not have to fight for equality, it should be free. The fact that people of color are still experiencing grave mistreatment speaks to what we must do; we must collectively speak up if we want to see a real change. As human rights activist Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”