On Friday October 21, during the pregame of a Friday night football game, a ceremony took place in order to honor over one hundred police officers and soldiers in various branches of the United States military.
The ceremony, occurring at Middletown High School South in New Jersey seemed to be nothing that anybody had not seen before. Although it included a massive American flag being spread throughout the field prior to the singing of the National Anthem, there was nothing completely unheard of going on. The Asbury Park Press described the situation as “A star-spangled celebration,” it widely popular and successful in order to honor those who put their lives on the line.
Despite this the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey greatly criticized the ceremony. The group argued that it created a “ominous, frightening message” and that this type of ceremony would “intimidate and ostracize people who express their views about systemic racism and social justice.”
Interestingly, much of the justification for the outcry does not stem from the event itself necessarily. Rather, it has came largely as a result from what the Deputy Sheriff of the Police Department told the local newspaper after the game. He stated, “It’s okay to stand up for social justice, inequality and reform,” adding, “It’s another thing to not stand up for the national anthem.”
However upon receiving complaints about his comments, he clarified that the event was not at all in relation to San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s recent protests or about Black Lives Matter.
However, Dianna Houenou of the ACLU New Jersey elaborated on their position on the situation, “The criticism the deputy police chief expressed for people who decline to stand for the national anthem in protest serves to erect walls between police and the communities they serve,” she described the event in more detail by saying, “The magnitude of this event chills the belief that police should be held accountable when they abuse their power or discriminate against people of color, and pressures student athletes to act as props of the police.”
With these allegations it is not clear what the players themselves felt about the situation. There does not appear to be any reason to suggest that the student athletes were not fully supportive and willingly participating in the event.
This comes as more and more teams of all levels across the country have begun to partake in protests similar to that of the 49ers Quarterback.