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Colin Kaepernick's knee never killed anybody

This is the story of two knees.

This is the story of where Colin Kaepernick put his knee.

And where Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin put his knee.

Kaepernick is still deemed "unpatriotic" by many in our country who have never had to fight for the foundational right to live. Chauvin's knee, placed on George Floyd's throat for more than eight minutes the other night in Minneapolis, is a murder weapon.

Two knees. Only one resulted in murder.

But this is where we are in our fractured culture. As one writer said earlier this week, "some are more passionate about an anthem that supposedly symbolizes freedom than about a black man's freedom to live."

There's no denying we live in an era of profound paranoia. We are more suspicious than ever of people who don't look, sound or think as we do. We are a product of rigid political allegiances that defy hard evidence.

But I'm asking — begging, actually — for anyone with a hint of open-mindedness to perhaps reconsider past criticisms of Kaepernick, who used a sporting event to make a political statement. Police brutality against African Americans is real — so real that a murder just played out on camera. Still, I fear rigid political allegiances will defy the hard evidence and somehow distort the narrative.

I've been on record questioning Kaepernick's forum. Why the anthem? Wasn't there a better way to convey the message? Civil disobedience is one thing. But the bounds of civility are another.

Now I get it. Turns out Kaepernick's knee was an eerie element of foreshadowing. All the ensuing fuss and furor never really did address Kaepernick's concerns — rigid political allegiances, remember — and now along comes another knee that commits murder because we distorted the narrative. That's what we do when we are made uncomfortable.

And on the band plays, with dizzying levels of tone deafness.

One day after the incident in Minneapolis, something on a smaller scale happened here in New London that fortifies why many African Americans are suspicious of law enforcement. Happily, it ended nonviolently — and may even result in what La Chale Gillis calls "a teachable moment."

Gillis, an African American woman, is a freelance photographer and videographer in the region. A gentle soul. A board member of the local NAACP. Daughter of the great Shirley Gillis, one of the most prominent residents in New London's history. I've known La Chale for many years now as a staple at many local sporting events, always equipped with plenty of video equipment and a friendly demeanor.

Gillis went with her friend Ruben Santiago on Tuesday night to the Crystal Ave. high rises. They wanted to shoot a final video of remembrance to the place before they're demolished.

Gillis set up her video equipment and began filming.

"Something felt a little weird. We turned around and saw three New London police officers heading for us," Gillis said. "One cop was walking ahead of two others. The one cop in front was clearly angry. He said, 'what are you doing here? This is private property.' It wasn't what he said, but the way he said it. There was attitude. We didn't know why. At that point, I knew I couldn't let my fear or discomfort affect what I said or how I said it. I thought something bad might happen."

Gillis, who had shot video outside the high rises before without incident, said she explained they were shooting a video for posterity and apologized for being unaware it was private property. Gillis said she learned from the lead officer that the two officers were there because he had "called for backup."

"I said, 'you saw two people here shooting video with a tripod and all this other equipment, and you felt like you needed backup?'" Gillis said. "He looked at me and didn't say anything."

Gillis said the other officers spoke to Santiago and calmly explained that they needed permission to shoot the video on private property. Gillis called it a calm, productive conversation with the other officers. But she also realized what could have happened had she reacted to the other officer's attitude differently.

"I don't think the (lead) cop was a racist. He might be new, he might have been profiling," she said. "But the outcome could have been different if I had a different attitude. I could have been hostile. I could have easily been arrested. It's like bubbling water. Turn up the heat a little and things could have escalated. Honestly, I just didn't understand where the hostility was coming from, but didn't feel right questioning it."

Gillis, who has done photo and video work for the police department in the past — recently, in fact — sent the video of the incident to Mayor Mike Passero and police chief Peter Reichard. She said their responses were quick and productive. Gillis, who posted the video to Facebook and got many views and phone calls in support, said Reichard has invited her to speak to the entire police force because her perspective needs to be heard. Gillis will likely do so in the next week or two.

"I very much appreciate that," she said. "I want younger people to know how to handle things. I want this to be a teachable moment. I don't want to be the 'angry black person.' That's played out. Why can't our area be responsible for writing a new narrative?'"

Maybe we can write a new narrative. But not until we understand the old one. It begins here: Nobody gets to tell African Americans — or anybody else — how they should or shouldn't feel around law enforcement. How you feel is how you feel. Hostile attitudes on either side don't help. Why has it become such a challenge to simply treat each other respectfully?

That, I believe, is what we should have gleaned from Kaepernick's message. It's nobody's fault ... and everybody's fault. And we've got to do better. La Chale Gillis will take her turn at bat soon with New London police officers. Everyone in and out of the police department needs to listen.


This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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