A day after football fans watched players from various NFL teams make or not make statements during the playing of the "Star Spangled Banner" (members of the Miami Dolphins chose to kneel, the Seattle Seahawks linked arms), Baltimore City Councilmember Brandon Scott made a statement of his own.
At the start of Monday's City Council meeting, Scott chose to stand with his hands behind his back and his head lowered during the customary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Scott, who represents the second district, recited the pledge—just "in a different way," he said to City Paper during Monday night's meeting.
He was also wearing a number seven San Francisco 49ers shirt while he did it—a nod to football player Colin Kaepernick, who publicly took a knee during the National Anthem last month because, he said, he was "not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."
Scott did it as "a show of solidarity, not just for Mr. Kaepernick, but even more so for all the young people across the country that have decided to show solidarity," he said speaking with City Paper after Monday night's meeting.
The United States has issues with race, Scott said—and they can't be ignored. Actions like his, and like Kaepernick's help keep those issues at the front of everyone's minds: "Folks have to understand that while our country is a great country, it can always be greater. We often hear the president say that we're working towards a more perfect union. The union is not perfect. We have to understand these issues, and folks have to be uncomfortable."
Scott challenged the idea that refusing to stand during the national anthem is anti-American or disrespectful.
"What Mr. Kaepernick – what all these young people are doing - is not disrespectful to America, or to the flag for that matter. It's actually the most American thing you can do, he said. "America started on protest and that's what this is about. It's about showing people that we do honor people's freedom of speech, we do honor people's right to protest, especially when they're bringing to light issues that too many just feel uncomfortable talking about."
"I also find it ironic that in a time where people are berating a football player for not standing up during the national anthem, which he's not required to do by law, people booed the president of the United States at NFL stadiums across the country."
Scott said he was anticipating some online backlash, but isn't worried about it.
"I haven't looked at my Twitter feed yet. I'm assuming I'll get some hate mail and racist tweets but hey, that comes with the territory," he said. "I get that every week, so I'll be undeterred by that. If I don't get called a bad word in a week, I feel like I'm not doing my job."
He says he started planning to do this last week, and scrambled to get a shirt. He won't be wearing Kaepernick's jersey again, though. "I don't want to get people accustomed to seeing me in a 49ers shirt," he said.
He also spoke about his own connection to the military, and how closely it's linked to this country's history of racist practices.
"My brother is in the Navy, he's on a destroyer, the USS Lagoon now, so it's not—this is not disrespect for the military. My uncle served in Vietnam. My granddad served in World War II and came home to rural North Carolina where my uncles and my dad, they couldn't even go to school with some of the people that were from North Carolina that he served with. So we have to understand what the flag truly represents. It represents the opportunity, the hope that we can get to that point, but we're not yet to that point."