NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick's career-halting demonstrations last year, taking a knee during the national anthem, were all about cops killing unarmed black men. The controversy, which now has entire teams bowing out of the pregame anthem, has particular importance in L.A., which is also where a Kaepernick-inspired boycott of the NFL began.
But when it comes to local leaders joining the wave of Kaepernick-inspired protests, Los Angeles is taking second place to longtime rival New York. Local civil rights activists want to even the score, and this week they're asking City Council members to take a knee before today's meeting to express solidarity with the quarterback's supporters on the field.
"All the talk of the boycott of NFL games started in L.A.," says Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable president Earl Ofari Hutchinson, who yesterday made public his request that the council kneel. "In line with that, it's only fitting that, since L.A. was a genesis of this, why can't the City Council make some gesture?"
On Wednesday, several members of the New York City Council took a knee in solidarity with Kaepernick and fellow players who support his method of demonstrating. The "kneel-in" was a direct response to Trump's "profane condemnation of NFL players who do the same," according to a statement from organizers. The president called on team owners to fire players who demonstrate during the national anthem.
We reached out to key City Hall leaders but did not receive a response. Hutchinson says he's lobbying influential council members to make at least a partial kneel-in happen at today's meeting at City Hall. So far, he said, he received no commitments.
It could be a touchy issue. After more than 20 without a team, the Rams (and then the Chargers) returned to the L.A. market with the express written approval of city leaders, even if they're both planning on playing outside city boundaries with the expected opening of Inglewood's L.A. Stadium at Hollywood Park in 2020. Ruffling NFL feathers might not be a welcoming move.
On the other hand, Hutchinson notes that several team owners and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell himself have backed protesting players over the president. For a largely left-leaning council, it could be a safe issue.
Then again, the law-and-order crowd still has a lot of influence at City Hall, and there could be council members (two of them, Mitch Englander and Joe Buscaino, are reserve Los Angeles Police Department officers) who might not want to anger the men and women in blue who take offense at the on-field protests.
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"The issue of police abuse has been so dominant in L.A.," Hutchinson says. "What started this with Kaepernick was really a stand to protest police abuse and police killings."
The call to kneel is supported by Najee Ali, leader of the local chapter of Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network. He says fatal LAPD shootings of Ezell Ford and Brendon Glenn should motivate council members to participate in a moment of self examination. "They should especially be supportive considering the controversial shootings we've had in recent years by the LAPD," he says.
Ali plans to be at council chambers this morning, with fellow activists, to take a knee.
"We're not anti-police, nor do we have disrespect for the flag," Ali says. "We just want to remind people that L.A. residents have been shot and killed by police, some unjustly."