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Ready: Stats don't bear out rationale for anthem protests

Recently, there has been tremendous controversy in our country regarding protests occurring during the national anthem at NFL games. There has been a lot of ink spilled over the issue. My view is, unequivocally, that the anthem and the flag are the wrong vehicle for protest.

Yes, of course people have the First Amendment right to protest during the anthem but that doesn't make it the right thing to do. For starters, it's counterproductive to what should be the goal of a protester — actually changing people's minds about an issue. When you use the national anthem and flag as a vehicle for protest, you immediately lose the ability to persuade millions of people to whom that kind of gesture is instantly offensive and keeps them from considering whatever good points you may be able to make.

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Plus, it's interjecting politics into one of the last remaining areas of our society where one can go to escape from it for a little while. "All politics all the time" is become exhausting to so many people that I talk with.

However, I'd actually like to dig a little deeper and look at the reason stated for the original protests by Colin Kaepernick and others — that there is a systematic killing of African-American men by an institutionally racist police force that is just getting away with it — something that the media outlets like ESPN who have covered these protests don't ever delve into or question. The numbers do not bear this conjecture out.

In 2016, according to The Washington Post — which is conducting a multiyear research project on the issue — 48 unarmed people were killed by police actions, 17 were African-Americans. That includes bystanders, unarmed accomplices of armed suspects and suspects who fought with police and grabbed their firearms. Obviously, some were wrongful deaths as well. Any undeserved death is sad, and certainly criminal or negligent behavior leading to wrongful death should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but those statistics hardly point to a concentrated plot to murder a particular group.

Have there been instances of police brutality and specific instances of racist behavior in our country? Absolutely. But the numbers do not justify the radical statements made about inherent racism and targeting. Perhaps a better focus of everyone's collective anger and desire for action could be what's happening in places like Baltimore.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I attended hearings in Annapolis on the ongoing murder and violence in Baltimore City. Murders and violent crime, which have long been an issue in the city, have exploded since the riots of 2015. There is a lot of fear and frustration, obviously. One of the most interesting points I heard was from a Johns Hopkins researcher who is part of the crime-fighting team assembled by the police chief and mayor. He said that in some other big cities with crime problems there have been successful targeted programs that focus on particular hot spots with intense and proactive policing that lead to more arrests of people carrying illegal firearms and actually bring crime down. "On the other hand," this researcher said, those very communities get mad because more of their residents are getting arrested for all manner of crimes — and it breeds "distrust" of police.

Quite a contradiction, saying you want a safe community but then get mad when police step in and start arresting people for criminal behavior because of the extra focus that it takes to secure an area. It's not totally a mutually exclusive choice but when there is tremendous violence plaguing a community with perpetrators coming from within the community, people need to decide what it is they want. While we're at it, it's appropriate to focus on the role the judicial branch has played in place like Baltimore City waiving gun charges and creating a revolving door where police are arresting someone and the person is back on the street right away.

We've made progress in Maryland on issues like criminal justice reform to police training in how to deal with these hostile situations and defuse them. However, the onus can't just be on the police — communities have to step up to the plate, too. These are issues that are best discussed in an open, calm and rational way. I'm committed to that approach. For me, though, the conversation should begin after we are done standing for the anthem together.

Justin Ready is a Republican state senator representing District 5 in Carroll County. He writes from Manchester.



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