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Monday, June 25, 2018

Columns

Peaceful protest: A beautiful American tradition


protest

Katie Santana/The Cougar

In the midst of protests and questions surrounding the severity of police brutality, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during our national anthem. Naturally, this action garnered national attention and people labeled him as anti-patriotic, while others deemed him a symbol for those whose voices are silenced.  

Over the weekend, several NFL teams chose to present a united front against President Trump’s comments criticizing the actions of players who refuse to stand during the anthem.

Not only has the message of Kaepernick’s action diluted, but a larger problem is rearing its head — the continuous policing of speech.

At the center of it all is Kaepernick. His intention was to further highlight the perceived tension between the black community and law enforcement. With high-profile killings of black men such as Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile, large sectors of the black community have rallied together, pleading for the justification of these untimely deaths and demanding a change.  

His focus wasn’t on Trump — he began his silent protest before Trump even took office. Kaepernick’s focus is the black community.

It is evident that America is divided. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, 77 percent of Americans believe our country is greatly divided on critical issues. There is an ever-widening chasm separating people from one another based on their personal convictions.

One of the problems surrounding Kaepernick’s controversy is his status. Too often we think that celebrities, athletes and other people of prominence exist solely for our entertainment and not as individuals with voices and strong ideas.   

We pick apart their statements and opinions, expecting them to share our perspective or be completely neutral. While it is true that their status grants them a larger platform, they should not be stripped of their rights because of it.

Freedom of speech is as American as it gets. This concept is the cornerstone of American identity. It is nondiscriminatory — all of us are bestowed this right. We are quick to point this out in online arguments or a heated discussion with a friend. Unfortunately, some over-generalize the uses and privileges this amendment bestows.

Our First Amendment allows us to freely speak, legally assemble and express ourselves how we see fit. There are obvious restrictions, however, such as slander or speech that could incite violence. We can voice our opinions in a fashion that does not harm other members of the community. If those situations are avoided, other restrictions should not exist — at least not from the government.  

This is where it gets gritty. People can voice their ideas in a public forum, but that does not protect them from receiving backlash from their peers. You have the right to boldly express your convictions, but let’s be clear: Not everyone is obligated to agree with you.  

It is not within our jurisdiction to police our fellow Americans’ ideas or how they demonstrate against their frustrations. We do not possess that power, nor should we desire to have it.

People differ in their views, so sensitive topics bring discourse and arguments.

Keep talking, regardless. Discourse is vital to maintain a vibrant and stimulating intellectual arena. Sadly, the concept of a free marketplace of ideas is slowly tapering off, due to myriad reasons, including news and social media.

As a country, if we truly want to reflect and live in accordance with freedom of speech, it is crucial that we stop being so easily offended; rather, we should actively attempt to engage in conversations with others whose views differ from ours.

At the end of the day, I stand by Kaepernick and others who chose to display their frustrations in nontraditional fashions. It’s their right.

Would I take a knee? No, but I surely support those who do, and that’s the beauty of it.

Alana N. Miller is an integrated communications junior and can be reached at [email protected]

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