Jacob DePetris, 29. Chaz York, 23. Sadine Dixon, 84. Jesse James Romero, 14. John Casey, 23. Pierre L. Loury, 16. These are the names of some of those who have died in the fight against police brutality.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made national headlines on Aug. 26 by kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial injustice. This was followed by a multitude of reactions from people across the country, one of whom was Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg.
In a recent interview with Yahoo! anchor Katie Couric, Ginsburg responded to Kaepernick and other prominent athletes’ refusals to stand for the national anthem, stating, “I think it’s really dumb of them. Would I arrest them for doing it? No. I think it’s dumb and disrespectful.”
Ginsberg continued, “If they want to be stupid, there’s no law that should be preventive. If they want to be arrogant, there’s no law that prevents them from that. What I would do is strongly take issue with the point of view that they are expressing when they do that.”
Ginsburg has long been a liberal progressive icon. She was one of nine women in her graduating class of 500 from Harvard Law School and faced gender discrimination countless times. This led her to co-found the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union and continue to fight against gender discrimination.
Regardless of her past, Ginsburg’s response was completely unacceptable and problematic in numerous ways.
First, considering the position, power, and influence Ginsburg holds, she should have been more conscious of the commentary she makes about political matters. With regard to the numerous cases of police brutality, there is a possibility that one of these cases could reach her court.
Moreover, Ginsburg sits on the highest court of the land. When people see a Supreme Court Justice call this means of protest “dumb and stupid,” it not only implies that the act is silly, but also strips it of its importance. It conceptualizes the symbolic notion of this country as more valuable than human lives. It validates the ability to turn a blind eye to the unarmed black men that are murdered by U.S. police on a day-to-day basis.
If Ginsburg had given this interview even a week or two before the actual interview date, it could have hindered the entire effect of the protest, which of course led numerous athletes across the nation to also kneel during the anthem.
What Ginsburg fails to realize is what the flag means to her is different from what the flag may mean to others. To many, the American flag is a representation of the values of this country—white signifies purity, red signifies hardiness, and blue signifies vigilance and justice—but this is not universal.
That same flag can also be a representation of despair. To many, it is a representation of colonialism, in which Native Americans were thrown off their land and blacks were lynched, forced into labor, and ripped away from their families by slavery. It is a representation of the absence of freedom.
Laws are put into place that require equality, but equality is far from the reality. (The very existence of Donald Trump indicates this.) People need to stop forcing the minority members of America to assimilate and pretend that racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination do not exist, because they very much do.
Even liberal progressive icons like Ginsburg find themselves unhappy with the actions of younger progressives in today’s age. This is why it is important to truly listen to the words and reasoning behind people’s actions.