jasonbwatson

October 1, 2017

Powerless Protests

After all of the attention given to NFL players sitting or kneeling during the National Anthem over the weekend of September 24, I decided to share on Facebook this simple truth:

So, (federal) minimum wage is $7.25 an hour or about $15,000 per year. Each year the minimum salary in the NFL increases by $15,000; this year it is $465,000.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average household income was $73,298 in 2014. The average NFL salary in 2015 was $2.1 million.

If for no other reason than that, then, every player in the NFL should be standing proudly at attention every time the National Anthem is played, giving thanks that they live in a country where the lowest paid person in their profession can make thirty-one times the federal minimum wage…for playing a game.

I stand by that assertion. Whatever it is that NFL players are intending to protest or express their displeasure for by failing to show proper respect to the American flag, they are at the same time disrespecting a flag that represents a country in which they have the opportunity to make a very comfortable living for playing a game.

Not surprisingly, my post generated lots of attention—from both sides of the debate. Quite a few people agreed with my sentiments, “liking” or even “loving” the post. But certainly not all. While I did not receive any Facebook emojis symbolizing anger with the post, there were comments shared, and “likes” for those comments, that made clear the fact that there is definite difference of opinion on this matter as well as a clear lack of understanding over the real issue.

For example, one friend commented, “I know my view point is not a popular one, but here you go. Every NFL player has the constitutional right to take a knee for what they believe. It’s the same right that our president has to say they should all be fired. I do find it heartbreaking that there is so much divide in our beautiful country.”

Well, I agree with the last statement wholeheartedly. There is entirely too much division within our country, especially on matters of race, and there appears to be far more attention given to those who exacerbate that divide than to those who seek to heal it. But my friend’s comment missed the point. I was not saying that football players do not have the right to sit or kneel during the anthem. I agree wholeheartedly that they do. But not everything that some has a right to do is right to do. What are they accomplishing by sitting or kneeling? By failing to show proper respect for the flag of the country that allows them the opportunity to earn millions of dollars playing a game, are they contributing to a healthy discussion about whatever it is they are protesting? No. Are the bringing solutions to the table? No. I think the president’s comments were ill-advised too (but then what’s new?). I am not saying he is right and they are wrong. I am simply stating my opinion that what they are doing is not contributing to a solution and is, if anything, drawing attention to themselves, not the issues they are seeking to draw attention to—whatever they may be.

Then another friend chimed in. A former student of mine, in fact. She said, “They aren’t disrespecting the flag though and they aren’t protesting the flag.” To the second part of that statement, I agree, which is why I also said their protest is ineffective. By sitting or kneeling during the National Anthem they are not really addressing whatever it is they are trying to protest. To the first part of the statement though, all I can say is this: they aren’t? How is failing to stand for the National Anthem not disrespecting the flag? There really is no denying that fact. If someone fails to stand in court when the judge enters and the bailiff announces “all rise,” I guarantee you it will be seen as disrespect for the office the judge holds if not for the entire judicial system. That individual would either find himself sitting all day in court waiting for his case to be called (best case scenario) or find himself in contempt of court. Remember, the right to free speech is not absolute—and it is certainly not absolute within the four walls of a courtroom!

This friend went on to say, “And though our country does allow them the opportunity to make millions, it doesn’t allow everyone that right. In fact there are some pretty glaring injustices within our country and some pretty obvious failures staring us in the face.” Here we have another error. No one has the right to make millions of dollars. There is no government system on the face of the earth that could really grant or enforce such a right. However, everyone in the U.S. does have the opportunity to earn millions of dollars. That is what a free market economy is really all about—equality of opportunity. Any young man in the United States has the opportunity to make millions of dollars playing in the NFL. Very few of them will, because some do not have the athletic ability, others do not have the drive or passion to do so, and even some who have both of those things may suffer an injury that ends their chance to make it to the pros. Every man and woman (legally) in the U.S. has the opportunity to make millions of dollars per year in any number of fields. Sports is one, of course, but so is entertainment or writing or business or…fill in the blank! Last August, Bustle.com reported that Simone Biles, the 2016 U.S. Olympic team gymnastics phenom, has a net worth of $2.5 million. “Not too shabby considering that Biles can barely legally vote,” the report stated. The 2012 all-around gymnastics gold medalist, Gabby Douglas, has a net worth of $3 million according to a January 2017 article in Gazette Review, and she’s just 21.

More on these young ladies later. Back to my friend, though, her comment continued,

They aren’t contributing a solution as I imagine it’s difficult to present such a manifesto on the playing field but many nfl players are active in charities showing at least some concern for their fellow man off the field. Does it draw attention? Yeah that’s kind of the point to protest. And it does draw attention to them though in Kaepernick’s case it wasn’t exactly good attention. But everyone knows why he protested. A quick Google search tells you that. Plus it’s started all this conversation. So I’d say it got the point across pretty well because we’re still talking about it.

Well, let’s examine this line of thinking. Is it difficult to present a manifesto on a playing field? Perhaps so. Perhaps rightly so. After all, the playing field is for playing, after all. But if it is true that the players protesting are unable to adequately communicate the motives of their protest through their actions, the protest is, by definition, unsuccessful. Are many NFL players active in charities off the field, showing “at least some concern for their fellow man”? I am sure they are. What in the world does that have to do with anything, though? Does someone’s participation in a charity make it excusable for him to disrespect the flag of the United States? No. Do his attempts to show some concern for his fellow man allow him to behave in way that blatantly shows disrespect for both his country in general and others of his fellow men (and women) who fought, and died, for what that flag represents? No. And, for the record, there are plenty of people who are active in charities and show concern for their fellow man that are adamantly opposed to the flag/anthem protest. So, this is really a non sequitur.

Is the point of a protest to draw attention? Actually, no. Drawing attention may be a necessary element of achieving a protest’s real point, but the point of a protest is to address wrongs and bring about their correction. Protesting the American flag and the National Anthem brings attention to the individuals refusing to stand, not to whatever those individuals think they are protesting. My friend says everyone knows why Colin Kaepernick protested and then says, “a quick Google search will tell you that.” Well, those statements are contradictory. If everyone knows, a Google search would not be necessary. And if a Google search is necessary, then the protest was ineffective. If it is necessary for someone to look up the reason for a protest action, said action is a poorly-selected means of protest. When the Sons of Liberty tossed tons (literally) of tea overboard into Boston Harbor, no one had to wonder or ask around to find out what they were protesting. The parades, pageants and picketing that went on in the pursuit of women’s suffrage left no doubt what the protest was seeking to accomplish. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person, no one wondered what she was protesting. When the Montgomery bus boycott resulted, no one wondered what they were protesting. When sit ins occurred, individuals were respectfully, but immovably, sitting at the very lunch counters that would not serve them. They were protesting the wrong directly and in a manner that left no one wondering what they wanted.

Finally, in this quote anyway, my friend suggested that the protest started this whole conversation and therefore was pretty successful because we are still talking about it. But therein lies the rub. We are talking about it—the protest—not whatever it is that is being protested. That’s due in no small part to the fact that very few people seem to know what exactly is being protested!

My friend suggested a Google search to find out what motivated Kaepernick, so I took her advice. In doing so I found the explanation provided by Kaepernick himself, who said in an interview, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Eric Reid, who protested with Kaepernick, wrote in the New York Times, that they were protesting “systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system.”

Okay, so since Kaepernick started it, we might assume that is what is driving it. Last Sunday, however, the majority of those participating the protest were not doing so because of systemic oppression or police brutality but in response to the ill-advised words of President Trump.

The NFL, by the way, is not helping this situation. On that note, President Trump was right. The league is creating a double standard by allowing this “speech” that violates its rules yet fining players over other “speech” such as Brandon Marshall wearing green shoes to promote Mental Health Awareness Week, William Gay wearing purple cleats to direct attention to domestic violence, DeAngelo Williams being denied the right to wear pink cleats and accessories to bring attention to breast cancer, and being fined for wearing eye black stating “Find the Cure.” After the deadly police shooting in Dallas, the Dallas Cowboys requested that the league allow them to wear an “Arm in Arm” decal on their helmets to honor the slain officers; the league said no. The league threatened fines for players wearing custom cleats to commemorate 9/11, and only yielded after a strong public backlash. NFL players are not permitted to yell t officials, taunt other players or even dance in the end zone after scoring a touchdown. Apparently violating league rules about the National Anthem will bring no consequence, though. According to USA Today, an NFL spokesman said on September 25, “that players would not be punished for breaking a league rule that says they must appear on sidelines during the national anthem. Players on the Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers all skipped Sunday’s anthem.” Hmmm. Is it really free speech when the NFL is deciding whether or not it is permissible? No, it is not. It is sanctioned speech.

But back to the motivation for these protests. My friend who suggested a Google search for identifying Kaepernick’s motive focused on income disparity in her Facebook comments. When I replied to her comment above by saying that no one has the right to be a millionaire but everyone has the opportunity, she shot back with this:

No[t] everyone does not have the opportunity. I, as a white woman, make $0.85 to every $1 a white male makes. Black women earn $0.65. Hispanic women earn $0.58. Plus minimum wage isn’t even livable in most states which makes it rather hard to get the ‘opportunity’ to make millions. There are lots of reasons for this wage disparity, including discrimination. But my point is that the reality is not everyone had that opportunity. It’s why there is a top one percent and then the rest of us. It’s unrealistic to assume “well I’ll work hard and one day before a millionaire”. But for some it’s equally unrealistic to imagine a life outside poverty or a life reasonably comfortable.

Well, this is interesting. I don’t think it has anything at all to do with the anthem protests, but let me address it anyway. Is there some income disparity in the U.S.? Yes, there is. Is it as horrific as the liberal Kool-aide vendors would have us believe. In April 2017 the Pew Research Center reported that the gender gap in pay has narrowed since 1980 and that among young adults (ages 24-35) the gap is down to 10 cents per dollar earned difference between men and women. IN 1980 it was only 67 cents per dollar. That is a significant improvement. The disparity is not purely a result of some conspiracy to discriminate against women, however. The Pew Research report indicated that women were considerably more likely than men to take breaks from their careers to care for family members: 28% of fathers had reduced their work hours at one time or another to care for family while 42% of mothers had done so; 24% of fathers had taken a significant amount of time off, while 39% of mothers had done so; 10% of fathers had quite their job completely, but 27% of mothers had done so. It is not unreasonable to think that women who reduce work hours or temporarily leave employment completely will see their wages increase at a slower rate than men who do not, all other things being equal. After all, rarely can someone leave the work force for a time and re-enter at the same salary he or she left. The report indicated that women were almost twice as likely as men to say that they had been discriminated against at work because of their gender, but that was still only 18% to 10%. No gender-based discrimination is appropriate, but “only” is appropriate in that sentence because it indicates that gender-based discrimination alone cannot account for the disparity in pay.

And minimum wage? It is not supposed to be livable for a family, and not even for very long for an individual. By its very name the wage is the minimum someone can earn. That necessarily implies someone with minimum skills doing the work. There are innumerable studies to indicate that education and experience contribute mightily to improved earning power. And in a free market economy, the market is supposed to drive wages anyway. The very existence of a minimum wage goes against true free market economic principles and creates an artificial floor.

I do not want to get too side-tracked on this income disparity issue but I want to go back to Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas for a minute. I selected them as examples on purpose. They are both female and both African-American. What’s more, they both come from families that do not typify the likelihood of high earnings. According to what I have read and heard, Douglas was raised by a single mother. Biles’ mother was unable to care for Simone and her siblings due to her drug and alcohol addiction, and the children were in and out of foster homes before being adopted by their grandparents. Both of these young ladies persisted and worked hard to pursue their dreams, overcoming what could be seen as domestic obstacles, historic obstacles and even the obstacle of pursuing a sport that has had very few African American competitors at the highest levels. After all, Dominique Dawes, in 1996, became the first male or female black athlete to win an Olympic medal in gymnastics. So to my friend, I would suggest that both Douglas and Biles are proof that the opportunity to become highly successful—and highly compensated—is indeed available to all.

Sticking with the theme of the Olympics, by the way, ask Jordyn Wieber in 2012 or Douglas herself in 2016 what they think of artificially leveling the playing field. Both gymnasts were the victims of the ridiculous Olympic gymnastics rule that restricts all-around finalist competitors to not more than two per country despite the fact that their performances rightly earned them a place in the finals if only the highest qualifiers were allowed to advance. Given that both of them have experienced in an athletic context what it is like to have their hard work and legitimately-earned opportunity negated by a silly rule that seeks to level the playing field, I wonder if they would be in favor of silly rules leveling the economic playing field?

There are so many factors involved in economic disparity that it cannot be diluted down to a simple “white guys make more money than everyone else” conclusion. Location makes a difference, experience does, education does, skill does, industry does… So, by the way, does personal choice. I currently serve as the superintendent of a small Christian school in South Dakota. I also have three graduate degrees and nineteen years of experience. Yet, an African American female with no teaching experience and only a bachelor’s degree will make more money as a first-year teacher in New York City this year than I will in my position. Seeks like a disparity doesn’t it? Sure… But the cost of living in New York City is exponentially higher than it is in the middle of South Dakota. When I was the executive director of a non-profit ministry providing residential childcare for at-risk youth I was making more than twice as much money each year as I do now, with even more lucrative benefits than I have now. But it is not the fault of any person or any system that I am not in a position with lower compensation.

But, back to the flag protests. The same friend who brought up the wage disparity issue later in the Facebook exchange said that the problem was unfair sentencing practices.

African Americans and whites use drugs at about the same rates but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug related charges is almost six times higher than whites. The imprisonment of female African Americans is twice the rate of female whites. Total, African Americans are incarcerated more than five times the rate of whites. If African Americans were imprisoned at the same rate as whites, prison populations would decline by almost forty percent. African Americans make up thirteen percent of the population but forty two percent of death row inmates and thirty five percent of those executed. Forty eight percent of whites were able to receive a sentence less than death through plea bargaining but only twenty five percent of black and twenty eight percent of Hispanics were able to receive plea bargains in exchange for life sentences.

Okay, so this a completely different path now, but it needs to be addressed as well. Interesting, isn’t it, how someone who said that the reasons for the protests were obvious is now on her third different explanation for the reasons? My friend is quoting almost verbatim from the NAACP’s Criminal Justice Fact Sheet. Fair enough. It is true that African Americans and whites tend to use drugs at approximately the same rate. And it is also true that African Americans tend to be incarcerated more often than whites. Michael Tonry, an American criminologist, is the McKnight Presidential Professor of Criminal Law and Policy at the University of Minnesota Law School, and he explained to Politifact.com in February 2016, “Whites are more likely to sell to people they know, and they much more often sell behind closed doors. Blacks sell to people they don’t know and in public, which makes them vastly easier to arrest.” In July 2016, Politifact.com reported, “Blacks arrested for drugs are more likely to be sent to jail because they’re more likely to have had a previous run-in with the law. Police tend to patrol high-crime areas more aggressively, which tend to be the poor areas, which have a higher proportion of minorities. Thus, they’re more likely to be stopped for something and have a rap sheet once a drug charge comes along.”

Back in 1995, Dr. Patrick Langan, Senior Statistician for the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice did some research on this disparity, and his report was titled, “The Racial Disparity in U.S. Drug Arrests.” What did he find? Well, for starters, he said this: “Drug users are not all equally at risk of being arrested for drug possession. Certain factors (for example, frequent use) place some drug users at greater risk than others.” Those factors, Langan reported, included type of drug used, frequency of use and location of use. He then concluded, “Although blacks are 13% of drug users, they should comprise over 13% of drug possession arrests since the type of drugs they use, the frequency with which they use them, and the places where they use them, put blacks at greater risk of arrest.” He went on to state, “How much in excess of 13% cannot be precisely determined…but the data do allow estimates to be made.”

Before I give you his estimates, let me tell you this: the NAACP Criminal Justice Fact sheet states that “African Americans represent 12% of monthly drug users, but comprise 32% of persons arrested for drug possession.” Interestingly, those numbers have changed little from 1995 when Langan made his report; he wrote, “Blacks are 36% of drug possession arrests but 13% of drug users, a disparity of 23 points.” If the NAACP figures are accurate then there is now a disparity of 20 points. But what else did Langan find? He reported that “although blacks were 13% of drug users, given how they differed from whites with respect to increased risk, they should amount to 23% of arrests, or ten percentage points beyond the 13% figure.” And that disparity of 23% that he reported? “The analysis revealed that 10 of the 23 points were attributable to race-neutral factors,” he concluded. If that analysis holds true today, than the percentage points of disparity attributable to factors that are not race-neutral (i.e., racism and discrimination) have decreased from 13 points to 10 points since 1995. There is still much room for improvement, of course, but it would appear that progress is being made in the right direction.

It is true that African American make up 42% of death row inmates and only 13.3% of the population according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Those classified as “white alone, not Hispanic or Latino” make up 61.3% of the population and 42% of the death row population. Those who are Hispanic or Latino make up 17.8% of the population and 13% of death row inmates. But there are other factors to consider in this argument as well. For example, African Americans do make up 35% of those executed on death row, but whites, on the other hand, make up 56% of death row executions. So blacks and whites represent virtually equal percentages of those on death row, but the percentage of executions is 21% higher for whites than blacks. That part of the conversation seems to have been overlooked by my friend…. (All of those statistics, by the way, come from the Death Penalty Information Center).

Well, I need to quit. This has turned much too long already. Here’s my point, though. The American flag/National Anthem protests are not working. They are drawing attention to players, not to issues—as demonstrated by the fact that no one seems to even know for sure what the issue is! Furthermore, the en masse NFL protests last week were directed far more at President Trump than at racism or police brutality or wage disparity or incarceration disparity or whatever else the alleged issue being protested may be. What’s more the “take a knee” protest is spreading to colleges and even high school sports and, with all due respect, I doubt seriously that many of those high school students have any idea what they are really—supposedly—protesting. Is there room for improvement in race relations in the U.S.? Yes, there is. Is that going to be achieved by anyone, regardless of race, gender, profession, income, or numerical participation, taking a knee, taking a seat or refusing to take the field during the singing of the National Anthem? No. Every player for every team could take a knee every time for the rest of the season but it will, in and of itself, do no good. Therefore, I urge those who really do have a legitimate concern they would like to see address, to find a meaningful, productive and effective means of protesting or, more beneficially, engaging so that solutions can be found.

April 30, 2015

“It’s just criminal behavior”

As a native of Maryland and someone who has enjoyed many days in the city of Baltimore, I feel I have a closer feel for the violence and idiocy on display there over the past few days than I have had to other violent protests like the one that took place in Ferguson, Missouri. Knowing the city provides a more real appreciation for what is happening, even if it makes no less sense. Rarely have I ever taken to this space to point out something on which Barack Obama and I agree, but in this instance we do. In a report on CNN Wednesday the president was quoted as saying that police officers and police departments need to be held accountable–and that is true. He said police departments need to build up trust in the communities they serve, and that it true, too. (I would add that it is equally true that we need to teach young people to respect those in law enforcement, not to fear or disrespect them). More importantly, though, President Obama said that the rioting in Baltimore is “counterproductive.” He went on to say, “The kind of violence, looting, destruction that we saw from a handful of individuals in Baltimore, there’s no excuse for that. That’s not a statement, that’s not politics, that’s not activism, it’s just criminal behavior.” Quite right.

What too few people seem to understand is that there is nothing even remotely synonymous about the riots, violence and destruction taking place in Baltimore and free speech or serious efforts to reform potentially dangerous practices in a police department. Breaking the law is no way to bring about reform within law enforcement. Destroying property accomplishes nothing, especially when it is the property of a business or private individual. Looting and robbing accomplishes nothing. Smashing police cars and attacking police officers accomplishes nothing. All this behavior does is demonstrate a stupidity on the part of the rioters. If these individuals are so easily whipped into a frenzy that they will shatter windows, run out of a store with stolen merchandise, light fires, throw rocks and more, these are individuals who have zero sense of self control or discipline. They behavior demonstrates exactly why law and order is needed. There are enough cameras going off in Baltimore these days–whether security cameras, cell phone cameras or honest-to-goodness cameras in the hands of both journalists and private citizens–that dozens of offenders should be able to be identified. Every one of them should be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This kind of behavior is ” counterproductive…it hurts communities that are already suffering,” Obama said.

Sadly, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake served only to add fuel to the fire. She originally stated that those who wanted to destroy should be given space to do so, according to various reports. Fox News reports that a law enforcement source has informed them that Rawlings-Blake gave a stand-down order early on in the rioting. If that is true, she should be impeached at the earliest possible opportunity for violating her oath of office and acting counter to the responsibilities she holds as the mayor of the city. Oddly enough, she then called the rioters “thugs” in later statements…but has since backed down from that and apologized for using the term. On Tuesday she recanted that statement and said, “We don’t have thugs in Baltimore. We have a lot of kids that are acting out, a lot of people in our community that are acting out.” While that is true–people are acting out–the term “thug” fits. Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster both define thug as “ruffians”–and ruffians are bullies or brutal persons. People who start smashing windows, lighting fires and throwing rocks are absolutely bullies and ruffians.

Interestingly, multiple news sites are reporting that “thug” is the new “N-word.” That is ridiculous; groups cannot hijack the English language because they are offended by a word. If a word is an accurate descriptor of a person, a people group or behavior, we cannot allow that group to stand up and say “you cannot call me that, it is offensive.” How absurd is it that the same people who are smashing, lighting, throwing and screaming are also whining about the word being applied to their behavior? How stupid is it that people who are breaking the law are complaining about the label being put on their actions? We would laugh in derision if someone convicted of robbery were referred to as a “thief” and complained about it. There are many–of various racial backgrounds–who celebrate and promote the “thug” image in rap and hip-hop music. They have no ground to stand on when the word they are glorifying in their words and play acting is applied accurately to real behavior.

The comments of the mayor of Baltimore, the behavior of the thugs in the streets and the objections of those feigning offense at the word “thug” are not the only examples of stupidity on display in this mess, unfortunately. The dean of the University of the District of Columbia Law School, Shelley Broderick, apparently felt compelled to get her foolishness into the mix, too. She has informed the students at the law school that they can defer their exams if they go to Baltimore to work with those involved in the rioting because it will be good training for their futures and because it is essential to provide legal assistance to those involved in the “police accountability movement.” I am not making that up, either–that was her term for the rioting, thuggery and lawlessness on display in Baltimore. It is difficult to imagine how we will be able to move past the uncivilized and barbaric behavior that seems to be the initial reactions of those set on fanning the flames of racial unrest in the United States when those who are entrusted with training the next generation of lawyers are referring to criminal behavior as a “police accountability movement.”

I should point out that for each of the incredible examples of lunacy described above there are many other people demonstrating cooler heads, common sense and an appropriate grasp of reality. These are the people who need to be heard, who need to be followed and who need to be encouraged. If there was any police brutality or inappropriate treatment of Freddie Gray then that needs to be investigated and dealt with; those responsible, if anything happened that should not have, need to be held accountable. Sadly, dealing with that will have to be put in the back burner while the chaos in Baltimore is quelled and cleaned up. Stupidity itself is not a crime in the United States, for which we should all be grateful, but when that stupidity results in behavior that is actually criminal, we need to call it what it is and treat it accordingly.

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