No doubt you heard about the five St. Louis Rams players who raised their arms as they took the field Sunday in a show of sympathy and compassion with protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, who are still upset by the lack of an indictment for Officer Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager. One of the players, tight end Jared Cook, said after the game, “I just think there has to be a change. There has to be a change that starts with the people that are most influential in the world.”
This being America, the land of the First Amendment and free speech for all, you would expect the silent protest by the five football players would be no big deal. But if you thought that, you would be terribly wrong. It touched a nerve among the police in Missouri, who were deeply offended that anyone would dare to question their legitimacy or cast aspersions on a fellow officer. The St. Louis Police Officers Association released a statement on Sunday evening in which they condemned the actions of the players. In part, the statement said, “(We are) profoundly disappointed with the members of the St. Louis Rams football team who chose to ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury this week and engage in a display that police officers around the nation found tasteless, offensive and inflammatory.” And it continued, “I know that there are those that will say that these players are simply exercising their First Amendment rights. Well I’ve got news for people who think that way, cops have first amendment rights too, and we plan to exercise ours. I’d remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertiser’s products. It’s cops and the good people of St. Louis and other NFL towns that do. Somebody needs to throw a flag on this play. If it’s not the NFL and the Rams, then it’ll be cops and their supporters.” The statement concluded with a demand that the NFL punish the players who had raised their hands in the “hands up, don’t shoot” pose.
Is it just me, or does that last statement sound kind of like a threat? A threat from a group of people who are supposed to uphold the law, not seek ways to subvert it. When I was growing up, my grandfather had a saying he used when anyone would get defensive about something that had been said. “The hit dog,” he said, “always yelps.” Or, as Shakespeare wrote, “(He) doth protest too much, methinks.”
Let me see if I have this correct: Now we are not only supposed to accept the killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer, we are also not allowed to express our opinions if those opinions in any way call into question the version of the truth the police offer us? Sounds oddly like a modern-day version of fascism, wouldn’t you say? But the police have lost this round, and they will continue to lose any future skirmishes related to this issue. What makes this nation strong and free is the fact that we are allowed to question authority with impunity. If you doubt this, look at the writings of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. While the St. Louis Police Officers Association would like this issue to go away, rest assured that it will not. It will not, and it cannot if we hope to ever achieve equality and civil rights for all in the United States.
So be careful when you criticize the police. They might get offended by what you say. If they do, then you will know, as my grandfather did, that the hit dog is yelping for a reason. And the reason is because that dog got caught.