While a debate over professional football players kneeling during the national anthem consumed much of the nation, demonstrators in St. Louis protested the acquittal of a white former police officer in the fatal 2011 shooting of a black man, marching inside a mall and through the streets in daily protests for more than a week. Racial justice activists are concerned that the essential issues they have spent years trying to highlight — police brutality and systemic racism — could get lost in the growing national dialogue emerging from football stadiums, reports the New York Times. When former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first made headlines last year by sitting during the national anthem, he made his motive clear: He was protesting racial injustice, especially the police killings of black people, an issue that began drawing increased national attention after the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
Now, with President Trump criticizing kneeling players, leading many players, owners and league officials to band together, motivations have become murky, racial justice advocates and protesters say. Are they fighting for free speech or against police brutality? Is the anti-racism message of kneeling being co-opted by a league and owners more concerned about their bottom line than black lives? “This new wave of everyone kneeling, it means absolutely nothing,” said L’lerrét Jazelle Ailith of Black Youth Project 100, an activist organization. “It’s become very basic and watered down.” Ailith and other activists fear that the latest debate involving football players could cause the focus of the activism started by Kaepernick to stray from its original intent. Trump urged football team owners to fire players who did not stand for the anthem, saying they should “get that son of a bitch off the field right now.” Ailith said the protests should not focus on the president, but on achieving racial justice in areas like policing, education, health care and the economy.