The Double-Edged Sword of Talking About Addressing Police Violence – The Example of The San Francisco 49ers CEO

Recently, San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York pledged one million dollars to two Bay Area charities to work for economic and racial justice. This was a critical acknowledgment of the need to address some of the issues that Colin Kaepernick’s protest has raised, considering Kaepernick is receiving death threats for his actions. This is a complicated statement, as there are negative and positive about what was said; and the negative is what obscures the issues being raised, and how we address them. 

York’s honesty and focus on income inequality between black and white residents of the Bay Area, and how grinding, concentrated poverty contributes to crime, is a much-needed positive acknowledgment of a problem that even many politicians are afraid to bring up in public. That the CEO of a popular football team – that undoubtedly has a significant amount of support from the very community suffering economically the most – made no bones about how wrong this inequality is in 2016 was definitely laudable. His commitment to identifying and pledging to support organizations in those communities that are doing the work – organizations and work that much of White America (and too much of Black middle class America) continues to believe do not exist and is not being done – is, dare I say it, revolutionary. Everybody wants a change and a revolution but few want to fund it. Bravo to Mr. York for these efforts.

Unfortunately, York’s comment that law enforcement is “unfairly” put on the front line of the issue that is at the center of the protests – police brutality – is incorrect. Regardless of a citizen’s level of income, we all have the same rights under the Constitution (or so we are told). It is clear that the rights of some people are more easily, frequently and acceptably violated by law enforcement than others. While income might play a role in that phenomenon in some cases – because poor white people are mistreated by the police as opposed to wealthy white people – black, Latino, and Native American people bear the disproportionate brunt of the most mistreatment by law enforcement.

It is great that Mr. York put his money where his mouth is and is willing to help organizations in the community do critical work. It would be nice if he and others in power would become less afraid to tell the truth about law enforcement. Minorities have been telling the truth about the abuses all these years, and police departments and unions that dismiss, ignore, and cover up the abuse are indeed on the front lines of the violation of rights and bodies of entire American communities.  

The scrutiny of law enforcement that this new generation of protests has brought isn’t “unfair.” It is overdue. Not acknowledging that is to hamstring the push for justice for all. You can read more about York’s pledge to the charities HERE:

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