Pop a squat, kids. Mama’s got some things to say. So, gather around. Pull up a chair. Or better yet—take a knee.
Ah, the kneel. We’ve got quite a lot of people on their knees (don’t) lately. Some in protest. Some in prayer. Some in both. The kneel of protest comes by way of the National Football League. In recent weeks, several players have followed in former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s cleats by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem before the commencement of their games as a symbol of peaceful protest against a milieu of issues, particularly police violence centered in minority communities and systemic racial inequality in the United States.
The kneel of prayer comes by way of the most recent grave tragedy on American soil. The most catastrophic, fatal mass shooting in United States history took place on Sunday, September 30th at a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. At least 59 people (including the perpetrator) were killed and more than 500 injured. And what do Americans do in times of trial? In times of grief and unfathomable loss? We pray. We get on our knees and pray.
We’ll come back to the kneel of prayer in a bit, but right now, let’s stick with the protest-kneel.
Amongst a litany of other rights, peaceful protest is included in the first amendment. Kneeling in peaceful protest during the national anthem at the presentation of the flag is well within every American’s first amendment right. In 2016, Colin Kaepernick began kneeling (after initially sitting) during the playing of the national anthem and presentation of the American flag. In response to a slew of recent police brutality and violence directed primarily towards the African-American community, he was quoted as saying, “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.” While Kaepernick has yet to sign with a team for the 2017 season (in the words of a basic pre-teen girl: “I can’t even”), many of his NFL comrades have decided to continue the protest. After all, the issues of police violence in minority communities and severe racial inequality in America have not vanished at the drop of a football season. In fact, racial inequality in our nation is at a level unseen since that of the Great Depression. Let’s chat about that for a sec, shall we?
I’m going to hit you with three facts:
- The wealthiest 100 Americans hold roughly the same amount of wealth as the entire African American population combined.
- If the average black family continues to grow at the same pace as it has over the last three decades, it would take 228 years to amass the same amount as the average white family has today.
- In our nation’s capital, the median white household boasts 80 times the wealth of the median black household. 80. Eight. Zero.
These truths are not the result of some “invisible hand” or benign forces. This is not within the black community’s control. No, make no mistake, this is the result of blatant and explicit policymaker discrimination. Libraries of research document federal laws and regulations that have intentionally undermined the wealth and economic promise of black Americans. This is fact. Documented fact.
Kind of unimaginable, right?
Speaking of “unimaginable,” let’s hop back to our kneel of prayer, shall we?
In the aftermath of Sunday’s mass shooting, former Philadelphia police chief and current CNN law enforcement correspondent Charles Ramsey, speaking as one of Jake Tapper’s panel members, was quoted on Monday as saying the following:
“It was unimaginable. I don’t know how you could anticipate something like this happening.”
Really? You don’t? You don’t know how something like this could happen? Something like this? A mass shooting killing tens of people, injuring hundreds more. Something like this. Something like the Orlando bloodbath last June? The Sandy Hook massacre in 2012? Or how about the 1,518 mass shootings since then? I’m sorry, did you need a second on that one? No, no, go ahead.
1,518 mass shootings have occurred in the United States since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012. 1,518.
You’re telling me that you don’t know how one could’ve anticipated something “like this” happening when, on average, a mass shooting (defined as the shooting of four or more people) occurs at least once a day in America. Once a day. In the year 2015, over the course of 336 days, 355 mass shootings took place. That’s more than once a day, if you’re keeping score at home.
You couldn’t have anticipated something like this happening, yet the United States sees 93 gun deaths per day, 32 of which are confirmed homicides? And despite that jarring number, Stephen Paddock was found with an arsenal of 23 semi-automatic and automatic weapons in his hotel room and 19 more at home. Experts say that any of the weapons found with him could let off 400-800 rounds every minute. Each and every one of his weapons were obtained legally. In the state of Nevada (and it’s not alone), one does not even need a permit to purchase or carry an automatic weapon. But you couldn’t have anticipated something “like this” happening?
A 64-year-old retiree with no “past history” up and walks into a hotel and decides to fire into a crowd. That is unimaginable. No. What is unimaginable to you is that he’s white.
What you “couldn’t have anticipated” is that he’s white. He’s not Muslim. He’s not black. He’s white. That’s what you’re saying. But just look at the headlines, and you’ll figure that out pretty quickly.
He’s not Muslim because otherwise this would’ve been a domestic terrorist attack (it was). He’s not black, otherwise, we wouldn’t be all but singing the praises of the man he was prior to Sunday night’s event. Paddock would not be a “quiet neighbor” or a “wealthy real estate investor” or a “private pilot.” No, because if he were black, those headlines would tell you he had an arsenal of 42 firearms—23 in his hotel room and 19 more found at his humble Mesquite abode. Along with thousands of ammunition rounds, of course. And chemical explosives, to boot! And his dad? Oh, yeah. They might mention that. Stephen Paddock’s father, Benjamin Hoskins Paddock, was an incredibly notorious felon—a bank robber listed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list from June 10, 1969 through May 5, 1977. He escaped prison in 1969 and lived on the lamb until his final arrest in 1978. He died a few years ago according to his son Eric, the shooter’s brother.
“White Son of Former FBI Felon Commits Catastrophic Domestic Terror Attack”
There’s a headline. Not one you’ll see though. No, you won’t see Stephen Paddock’s flaws and history used against him as though he were, I don’t know, a black victim of police brutality. No, you won’t see any of what might be perceived as his “shortcomings” published in headline format. Why? Care to venture a guess? Because he’s white.
You see, if Stephen Paddock were black, even a black victim of gun violence, you’d likely see headlines making jabs at his multiple marriages. Why couldn’t he keep his old lady happy, huh? You might read about his high-stakes gambling ventures that sound an awful lot like an addiction. Perhaps you’d pore over that troubled past we discussed a few minutes ago—the estranged felon father and what that must have done to Paddock’s psyche over the years.
After all, that’s what the media did to Allyn Ross. Trayvon Martin. Derrick Varner. These were three young men gunned down before the age of 25 under some incredibly questionable (to put it mildly) and devastating circumstances. These were victims. Paddock is a killer. Surely their headlines should read differently. And they do. Because rather than mourn the loss of their lives, the respective media shitstorms following each of the three tragedies were simply advertisements of their past criminal and social offenses.
Gregory Allyn Ross was gunned down in the streets of Oakland, Alabama. After 13 paragraphs about his history with the law, a brief and incomplete statement about his funeral services conclude the article published by http://www.AL.com. Touching.
Trayvon Martin, an unarmed blacked teenager, was shot and killed by a “neighborhood watch” volunteer named George Zimmerman, who claimed to have been assaulted by Martin and under the impression he was carrying a weapon (neither claim panned out to be accurate, for the record). During the ongoing investigation of the shooting of a completely unarmed black teenager, NBC found it necessary to publish an article detailing the three school suspensions Martin had received prior to his murder. Because, yeah, those are relevant.
Derrick Varner was found shot to death on March 10, 2014. A small article in The Lakeland Ledger will tell you all about his history with drugs, a previous gun-related injury, and his entire legal past. One sentence will offer you an option to provide information about the murder. Lookin’ good, Sunshine State!
So, where does that leave us? We’re all still on our knees.
And personally, I don’t think your prayer does anything. I know that offends some of you, and that’s a bummer, but here we are. Prayer is a lovely idea in theory. Seriously. You band together and ask some higher being for something and he/she swoops down and does his/her thing. That’s neat. And, you know what? I’ll concede that prayer can be a powerful force. Prayer, energy, whatever you might call it. The unity and love of people coming together for a greater purpose is an absolutely beautiful concept. And I’m on board with that concept; but that’s just it–it’s a concept. Prayer in itself doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t enact legislation. It doesn’t propose stricter gun laws. It doesn’t demand complete systemic overhaul in cases of racial and economic inequality and injustice.
What do I think works? Protest. Peaceful protests. Like the kneeling you see on your television sets every Sunday. Protests calling attention to real issues, demanding people start a conversation they don’t want to have. Protests calling for legislation. The proposal of stricter gun laws. Complete systemic overhaul in cases of racial and economic inequality and injustice. That’s what I think works.
So, again, where does that leave us? Still on our knees—praying, protesting, whatever helps us sleep at night. Here’s an idea. Let’s do something about this shit, too.
You pray. You get on your knees and you pray to your deity for the healing of the people broken by Stephen Paddock on Sunday. Give money if you have it. Donate blood. Write letters to the families. Ask your god for peace. Ask your god for change. And maybe start doing something yourself. When it comes to firearms, maybe you start to think about tighter restrictions on those military-style weapons the majority of us have access to. When it comes to police violence and racial inequality, maybe you start to think about contacting your local congressmen and legislators. Maybe you start to ask more. Maybe you start to do more. And you keep praying. You stay on your knees and you pray.
But make no mistake, we’ll be kneeling right next to you. In protest. Not of your prayer. Not of your flag. Not of your anthem. Not of your military. We will kneel in protest of a society that continues to allow the open sale of semi-automatic and automatic weaponry in a country that has seen 1,518 mass shootings since 2012 alone. We will kneel in protest of the fact that not only have we seen no legislation to discourage or cease the sale and possession of these weapons, but, in fact, we’ve witnessed a display of leniency (refer to Trump’s February signing of the overturning of President Obama’s bill restricting the purchase of firearms by those with documented mental illnesses). We will kneel in protest of the continued police brutality in minority communities and exacerbated systemic racial injustice. And we will kneel at the idea that a black man in peaceful protest sparks more outrage than a white man’s access to and use of military-grade weaponry for the purpose of mass murder.
You will never hear me tell you to stop praying. To stop talking to your god. To stop doing what you think is going to change the damn world. You will never hear me tell you to get off your knees and stop praying. So, stay in your lane. Don’t tell me to get off mine to stop protesting. To stop talking. To stop doing what I think is going to change the damn world.
Until then. Happy kneeling.