Colin Kaepernick at Know Your Rights Camp event at Dusable Museum of African American History in Chicago – Photo credit: Portia Hall

African Americans fought in the American Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War I and II and all the other conflicts even when they were being treated like second-class citizens and denied liberty and justice. It was an African American, Crispus Attucks, who is widely recognized as the first casualty of the Revolutionary War. African Americans do not need to be lectured about the meaning of patriotism, loyalty or when to protest.

What has to be done to get the point understood that it is not okay for police to abuse and kill African Americans? Since the creation of the smartphone, it seems there have been more and more cases of police brutality and excessive force incidents caught on video that documents the mistreatment by police against African Americans and other minorities. One of the most famous police misconduct videos was the Rodney King video of four L.A. police officers who beat him, in 1991. The police officers were later found not guilty. It caused outrage in the African American community. Before video cameras, police would often lie and write false reports. Police brutality and misconduct has occurred in many forms. Since 2016, Black Americans are twice as likely as white Americans to be unarmed when police kill them. Furthermore, Black males aged 15-34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by law enforcement officers in 2016.

The kneeling during the Pledge of Allegiance or national anthem is a non-violent method of protest to bring attention to the issue of police brutality against African American men. This is an American problem, it seems to be systemic. Police brutality has been historically a problem in the African American community. We need to address the problem and not resort to calling citizens unpatriotic. Those who have not had the experience are blind to the outrage and frustration that many African Americans and people of color feel about the unequal treatment. It is not about being right or wrong, left or right. It is about the meaning in the words — liberty and justice for all. School kids do not have to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, but we expect grown men to be required. Who said that we had to stand or place your hands in a certain location anyway?

Our discussion should be about how do we address the problem of police brutality and misconduct, rather than just focus on the right to protest. The story should not be just about Colin Kaepernick or the NFL. It is bigger than them. The story is not just about the NFL requiring the players to stand or even the fans to stand and recite the Pledge or the national anthem? African Americans have been patriots before we became a country.

Today, it seems that many of our leaders and some of the media are sowing seeds of division rather than unity in their conversations. The answer is not to separate and divide us. We should reject this approach in our communities, workplace and places of worship.

We should engage fellow citizens in conversations about what liberty and justice means and not just recite it. We should make the words in the Pledge of Allegiance ring true for all. “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Dr. King stated: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

The Constitution represents our values and beliefs as a nation. We should not spend time trying to restrict rights. Instead, we should spend our time ensuring the rights of all the citizens’ access to equal protection and that police are held accountable when they abuse their authority.

Kaepernick and the other athletes use a nonviolent method of protest that has been off the field of play to protest treatment of unequal protection of the law and justice in our country for certain citizens. The owners in the NFL are sending a message that it is not okay for players to exercise their rights and that they do not have the choice or liberty, not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem while at work.

Kaepernick told NFL.com’s Steve Wyche: “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.”

There are no NFL contract terms that require Kaepernick to stand or recite either the pledge or national anthem. The NFL is a corporation in a sports league that is governed by anti-trust laws. Kaepernick has the constitutional right to free speech and non-violent protest, but these rights supposedly do not extend to a private corporation, such as the NFL. A uniform should not cause a player to lose all their constitutional rights. It is contradictory for the NFL league to celebrate the same rights, defended by the military abroad and other uniformed services at home. Kaepernick should not be fired or let go because he does not want to recite the pledge or sing the National Anthem. He should have due process as spelled out by the anti-trust labor laws and collective bargaining agreements.

The Bill of Rights and the equal protection clause should apply to all businesses that receive tax breaks or subsidies. This means that Bill of Rights should apply to a person at work for the most part, a private company or a government employee in uniform that also receive government contracts. The government and businesses should have the right to create guidelines within reason to regulate and guarantee the orderly exercise of our Constitutional rights.

An unarmed African American citizen should not expect to be killed for no reason by a police officer during an encounter. There needs to be more police training, better equipment, and punishment for those police officers that violate the public trust and our civil rights. The question we should be asking as a nation is what can we do to address the problem of police brutality and how long will it take to make a significant difference?

Ed Williams. Ed.D. is the chair of Concerned Citizens For Effective Government. He can be followed on Twitter: @truthcrushthee2.

Ed Williams is chair of the Concerned Citizens for Effective Government