Let us be undiplomaticly clear about what the five St. Louis Rams players did when they came onto the field at the start of a Monday Night Football games with their hands in the air like the fictional, idealized, sanitized, imaginary and politically useful version of Michael Brown—you know: the angelic young college-bound African-American male who did nothing whatsoever to cause the circumstances of his own death.
The players were saying, on national television, with millions of people watching, that Officer Darren Wilson executed Mike Brown in cold blood; that the St. Louis police do such things, want to do such things, and will do such things, because they routinely target young black men for harm; and that police generally, around the nation, are virulent racists. That’s what the gesture meant, and that is what it was devised to convey.
The players have emphatically refused to apologize for their display, and though it is completely inappropriate, embarrassing and irresponsible for a professional athlete to engage in such political protests, regardless of merit, on the playing field, the team and the National Football League have declined to discipline them, thus tacitly approving their conduct. (I know the real reason they haven’t acted, and so do you: the league and the team are afraid to wade into more controversy than it already has, thanks to the NFL’s wife-punching, child-beating stars and its willingness to maim its own players. The fact that we understand their actions, or lack of any, doesn’t excuse or justify them.)
Ah, but it’s all right now! Last night, the Rams made an on-field donation to The Backstoppers, a charity serving the families of fallen first responders, prior to the team’s Thursday night game against the Arizona Cardinals, and we all know money solves everything.
It does not, however, though much in our culture suggests otherwise. The contribution essentially asks police to allow themselves to be called racist killers for a price. If they accept the money, then the St. Louis police and their supporters have forfeited their integrity for some greenbacks, and agreed that no calumny is too terrible if the bribe is rich enough. Yes, that’s certainly the way to build trust in police character and values in the black community, or any community.
As comes as scant surprise for a profession that apparently is suffering from ethics dementia—like the NFL, ironically—the president of the St. Louis County Police Association, Gabe Crocker, chose to embrace the gift while simultaneous giving lip service to not accepting the cynical false apology it was designed be. He called it a “good first step”—Translation: “More money will be a good second step—we have no pride!”-–and said, solemnly and self-contradictorily:
“The players’ actions had a profoundly negative impact on public safety personnel and their supporters throughout the community. I still would not expect many public safety folks to be lining up for tickets.”
Pathetic: “The players’ actions were wrong and outrageous, but we’ll accept checks in lieu of any indication that they recognize this, or that they won’t do the same thing again. But watch out: our officers won’t be buying any of your over-priced, sold-out tickets that they weren’t going to buy anyway!”
The team’s donation was ethically incoherent, a transparent public relations move that meant nothing more than “Here: take this in exchange for our players calling you killers.” The willingness of the police charity to accept it was equally unethical, a classic example of “The Saint’s Excuse,” Ends Justify The Means Dept.: “OK, we’ll let you call living police racist killers as long as we get some more money to help the families of dead racist killers.”
The Backstoppers, if the organization had any integrity, should have publicly rejected the gift.
The “hands up” gesture is a false accusation of murder wherever it is displayed and whoever displays it. It will stop when it is condemned in unequivocal terms, as it should be by any fair citizen and organization, regardless of race or political affiliation.