On Friday, members of the Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association (SCPOA) threatened to stop working the San Francisco 49ers’ facilities unless the organization implements corrective action regarding Colin Kaepernick’s recent “inappropriate workplace behavior.”
If being afforded equal treatment by the criminal-justice system hinges on what you think and say about police unions, this is a nation ruled by people instead of laws. The letter is a protest against the 49ers’ quarterback sitting during the national anthem each week of the preseason. Further, he is wearing socks depicting pigs in police hats in order to bring awareness to police brutality.
Santa Clara officers say they “voluntarily agree to work these assignments” and even though no one noticed Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem until the third week of the preseason. There have been zero altercations between Kaepernick and any of the 70 officers. Still, the SCPOA claims that unless their workplace is “free of harassing behavior,” this “could result in police officers choosing not to work at your facilities.”
Insulted by Opinion?
Santa Clara officers say they felt “insulted” by Kaepernick’s statement that, “There is police brutality. People of color have been targeted by police.” The SCPOA claimed Kaepernick made inaccurate statements about the level of training required to be a police officer and also took issue with the notion that “police officers are being placed on paid leave for murdering minorities.”
But isn’t the whole idea of security to defend human rights, among which surely includes freedom of expression? For a police union to refuse protection for an entire stadium of people to protest against one man’s opinions seems contrary to everything police are supposed to be about. If there is one party that has some jurisdiction over Kaepernick’s comportment it is the team mangement, not the police. And the 49ers have supported his rights 100%.
Moreover, after 40 years of a failed drug war, the rise of mass incarceration, and a year where cops killed almost a thousand people, the idea that officers would be “insulted” by someone standing up for victims of police brutality, instead of standing up there with him, is a slap in the face to everyone the police are supposed to protect.
While police officers’ feelings are important, facts are more important. Kaepernick is right about the problem of police brutality. He’s right that people of color have been targeted by law enforcement. He’s right that it takes more training to become a cosmetologist than a police officer. Unfortunately, he’s even right about police officers getting paid leave for murdering minorities.
The Right to Speak
Protection and security are much-needed services in any society. Even if Kaepernick was completely wrong about the systemic racism in America’s policing, the police union’s accusation that by exercising his basic human right to speak and act freely, he is guilty of harassment, puts them closer to perpetually offended university students than to the many veterans who’ve tried to protect that freedom and supported Kaepernick’s right to protest.
If being afforded equal treatment by the criminal-justice system hinges on what you think and say about police unions, this is a nation ruled by people instead of laws. If police can eschew the protection services they purportedly exist to provide in cases of individuals with whom they disagree (and tens of thousands of football fans), “government for the people” becomes a pipe dream.
While the police union pays homage to the foundational principle of America’s legal system, the rule of law, by acknowledging they “are sworn to protect the rights of ALL people in the United States,” they immediately walk back this claim in the very next sentence, claiming their members “have the right to do their job in an environment free of unjustified and insulting attacks from employees of your organization.”
Well, which is it, police union? On September 12th, when tens of thousands of fans are packed into Levi Stadium to enjoy the first Sunday of the year, are you going to uphold the duty you profess to “take very seriously,” and try to, in Kaepernick’s words, “make sure that everybody’s treated equally and has the same freedom”? Or are you going to hold those tens and thousands of fans hostage until Levi Stadium is again a safe space for blind deference to authority?
Here is another option. Rather than retain a contract with the police union for services not provided, how about the stadium hire a group of private security officers as substitutes? Protection and security are much-needed services in any society. The key to making it work in a civil, humane, and freedom-enhancing way is to allow policing to be a market-based service – without strikes, protests, and the demand that people give up their freedoms just to enjoy protection.