Philadelphia is a city of protest.
Two hundred and forty years ago, America was born out of a building in City of Brotherly Love where our founding fathers penned the Declaration of Independence that officially severed America's binding from the United Kingdom.
America's history is one of protest.
Over two centuries after America's independence, the voice of Philadelphia's most influential people will once again not go unheard. The Eagles star safety, Malcolm Jenkins, made it clear that members of the team were organizing some sort of action during the national anthem for the team's prime time showdown with the Bears.
Malcolm Jenkins, Ron Brooks, Steven Means and Marcus Smith stood for the anthem, fists raised.
Of course, this is coming on the heels of several players across the NFL following Colin Kaepernick's lead in protesting during the anthem. Players feel the need to express their discontent with the treatment of black people in America and do so on a stage where everyone knows the importance of this conversation.
Unsurprisingly, the protest has been met with some appraisal and much criticism. It is important to realize that the criticism of these athletes not only does nothing to help anyone, except maybe make a few white people more comfortable, but that critiquing protest only empowers the institutions in question.
There is no denying the necessity to protest the issues that these athletes feel so strongly about starting a conversation about. The reality of police brutality and general inequality has been a truth about this country ever since its inception. Thousands of people are killed every year by the police and the victims of police brutality are disproportionately people of color.
Before you get into an uproar with the ridiculous "Why don’t they protest black on black crime?" nonsense, there are important realities that people need to face about these issues.
It is ridiculous to compare inner community violence to that of the police. Police officers are public servants, making their money from tax dollars American citizens pay in order to be protected and served. Of course, if public servants are using their powers instilled in them by the American people to do unnecessary harm to citizens, there absolutely needs to be critical voices at the least to bring about change.
On top of that, "black on black crime", as white people so often love to talk about, happens at no greater rate than white violence… It’s almost like we are all equal acting people and should be treated as such.
Most importantly, people ignore that inner city violence is part of the conversation on racial inequality in the United States. Poor, crime riddled parts of the country were formed through racialized property discrimination that kept black people in disenfranchised parts of the country, making mobility from poverty incredibly difficult. When Jenkins talked about what there is to be protested, he spoke on all inequalities and not just the inequality black Americans experience from law enforcement. Racism and the institutions that uphold it run deep in America because America was built on the back of racist policies. Malcolm Jenkins wanted the Eagles to join and potentially add to the growing conversation. That is exactly what they are doing.
Just like there is no disputing the conditions in which players want to discuss, there is no disputing the necessity of protest itself. Protest, by definition, is about disruption. It is necessitated when a conversation is not enough to gain attention to a cause and action must be taken to bring the discussion to the public eye, even if that means against the will of society.
The Eagles picked Monday Night Football, a television event enjoyed by tens of millions, to take action. This is strategic and well-done protest. Protest is not supposed to happen behind closed doors nor is it supposed to be perceived as "respectful." It is an action to disrupt an every day institution so that we the people are made to pay attention. Black people have spent decades upon decades "respectfully" pleading for their lives to be treated with the same value as white lives. Their attempt to create dialogue has only been met with more and more vitriol, ignorance and outright violence. There is a need to start leveraging the power that they do have in order to make an impact.
Athletes using their platform is a way to push that conversation. It is ridiculous to ask athletes to hide their protest because it misunderstands what protest is. The founding fathers did not ask King George if they could write the Declaration of Independence. They asked for equal treatment for decades and when it was not given, they took it.
Americans are tired of being disenfranchised and threatened by the very government that is expected to promote general welfare and ensure domestic tranquility and those Americans have every right to protest and be critical of their country. Protest is not unpatriotic, as those protesting are not saying that they hate America or those who serve. Protest is patriotism. Patriotism is not about blindly following and loving a country without question. That is nationalism. Patriotism is loving a country and thus wanting the absolute best of it and its citizens. To want the best for the American people is to be in constant critique of American systems, which leaves so many citizens, treated unequally.
To condemn a protest is to not only misconstrue the issue, but also empower the violence that Americans are threatened with. Condemnation of protest is to say that black voices are not welcome in the national political discussion. To say Jenkins and others "are just athletes who should play the game instead of getting into politics" is basically saying that they are to be seen and not heard.
The reality is that they are citizens like you and me, meaning it is their duty to be active in politics and be critical of their government just like we are. Their profession has blessed them with a great platform to speak on the issues they feel passionate about, and the players are rightfully taking advantage of that.
People also misunderstand the conditions of the spectacle that is the Pre Game Anthem Ceremony. The DOD is paying the NFL to have players out on the field as part of propaganda to get people to join the military. There is nothing genuine about the NFL's patriotism, because they are nickel and dime-ing taxpayers for it. However, there is something genuine about the freedom that players are exercising.
Personally, I could not be happier with Malcolm Jenkins. Since he joined this team, he has made a monumental impact on the field, in the locker room, and most importantly, in the community. Jenkins has used his voice, platform and financial means to do incredible work with charity and also work with Philadelphia politicians on influencing important reform. For those who say "there are other ways to make an impact", they must realize that Jenkins, like many other athletes, is involved in politics and doing work at the community level.
However, unfortunately evidenced by over 2300 deaths at the hands of police since January 2015, that is simply not enough. There cannot be complacency in the progress of a conversation when people are literally dying every day. The stakes are way too high and these athletes want nothing more than to push the conversation and invited more voices to join, constructively.
The Philadelphia Eagles are American Patriots. They want to engage the country in a conversation that simply must be had. To silence them, any other athlete or person in this conversation, is not only Un-American, it is dangerous. When the media talks about a protest and not what is being protested, they continue to ignore the issues and invite more need for social intervention. It is imperative to see the message and that message, in all of its truth, is that Black Lives Matter.