Like a lighthouse leading a lost ship home or a Northern Star, as you pull into my town, there is a flag that stands high in the sky that brightly calls you back home. Those of you that live here know I’m talking about the one by Captain D’s and in front of Kroger. It stands high in the sky for half the city to see. It is probably the biggest American flag that you can (or, at least, I can) imagine. It always seems to be flapping in the wind, and late at night the light hits it and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think that it’s probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And there’s not a day that it doesn’t bring tears to my eyes. Out of gratitude for living in the United States of America Mostly, it’s gratitude for those days it’s not flying at half staff. Because for the last few years, whether it’s a mass shooting inside our nation or a terrorist attack on foreign shores, or even the passing of a central figure here in United States, it seems to be flying at half staff every other week.
But today as I passed by it, it seemed to call out with special meaning. Like most Americans, it doesn’t take much — a simple shot of the red white and blue — for me to become emotional. But if it’s possible for it to look even more beautiful than it was before, I think it was today.
Living in the emotional hangover that was staying up half the night and reading through (and responding with “Thank you for your service!”) the #VeteransForKaepernick on Twitter, I realize what it is that’s so gorgeous about that sight. It’s not the red or the blue or even the stars or the stripes that repeatedly take my breath away, it’s what that flag stands for.
There was no better example of that than witnessing soldiers that would give their lives and fight to the death for our right to protest against the government even if they don’t agree with what we were protesting, standing out on Twitter, tweeting pictures of themselves in their uniforms, and standing behind Colin Kaepernick. If that didn’t make your eyes fill with tears and your heart fill with so much pride you want to run down the street screaming, “Damnit, I love America!” then, I don’t know, Trump supporters, maybe YOU should move to another nation — because it’s one of the biggest examples of patriotism I have ever witnessed. And if it didn’t move you to tears, you’re clearly missing something. Pictures of soldiers in their uniforms standing in front of choppers that look like they cost more than the GDP of some small nations, supporting a man who cowards and faceless trolls on the internet have been pummeling with racial slurs and was accusing of disrespecting our soldiers, saying, “No, sir, I serve for
your right to do just what you did. I didn’t fight for a flag or a song, I fought for the freedom to protest, and it’s not just for half of the country either. It’s for all.”
That is what that flag represents. That is what’s so beautiful about the United States of America. It’s not some colors on a cloth or some bars of a song, it’s that, unlike North Korea, I’m not going to be imprisoned for 25 years if I want to press back against my leaders and demand accountability from my nation and ensure, as promised, that we do provide justice for all.
Anthony Hill was a veteran. He served in Iraq and whether he came back with a mental illness (that would have prevented him from even entering the service had we not lowered the required standards after 9/11) that was exacerbated by military service or whether he came back with a mental illness from PTSD, I can’t say. I can only say in the middle of a psychotic break, scared, terrified, crying, unarmed and naked, he had crouched down inside a neighbor’s doorway outside of his apartment complex in Atlanta. Unsure what to do, the neighbor called 9-1-1. So when the cops showed up, saw this unarmed, naked, crouching veteran, what did they do?
They shot him 7 times.
No department heads rolled. No accountability. I’m sure, to many, they simply saw a skin color and thought, “Oh well, another black crackhead dead.”
Was Anthony Hill a crackhead? Not to my knowledge. If he was, he was a crackhead who formally signed his life on the line to protect our freedom and then made good on that promise. But reality doesn’t seem to matter any more in America. And if it does, it doesn’t matter near as much as perception. What the cop saw when he looked at Anthony Hill is what most people saw — dark skin. And until we get to the day in America where we can only see a person who fought for me and you who is now in trouble, then we’re no where near where we need to be.
Did the cops shoot Anthony Hill because he was mentally ill and they were afraid, or because he was black and they were afraid? I don’t know. I don’t know if the sole motivation for shooting Anthony Hill was because he was black, I just know that they got away with it because he was.
Now to be fair, Officer Olson, the cop that shot Anthony Hill, was eventually indicted and is awaiting trial, but in a city where there had been (at the time of the indictment) 170 people shot by police officer in recent years, only one of those prior to Officer Olsen was ever indicted and the charges were eventually dropped, it’s highly unlikely he will ever be truly held accountable, much less convicted for murder. And if there was a mass shake-up and shake-down in administration or overwheming changes in policy and protocol following this veteran’s City of Atlanta-sponsored murder, the public is still waiting to hear about it.
It’s easy for white people to stand up and say “ahh, Colin Kaepernick, there’s another way; some better way to protest racial inequality that doesn’t tick off the nation.” But is there? When has change ever been comfortable? When we kill soldiers who fought for you, when they can come back and get shot by the police or get killed in a Planned Parenthood where they aren’t even a patient by a psycho with an assault rifle, then maybe we all need to be uncomfortable.
Take a moment and honor a man who fought for your freedom. And be real, white people, most of you have never even heard his name.
(Anthony Hill and his parents.)
I may not like Kaepernick’s methods, but I love his message. And I love even more the soldiers coming to the defense of his actions, bombarding Twitter with tangible evidence of their service, and saying: “My sacrifice is about more than this fabric, and your freedom — the same ones I’d lay down my life for — is stronger than a flag.”
That is a free nation. That is the greatest place on Earth. Where a man wearing military fatigues who would take a bullet for my right to side — or not side — with the protest of a multi-million dollar athlete, stands up and out in large and overwhelming numbers to press back at the faux-patriot, Trump-supporting haters, and say: “I’d give my life to rescue this flag from enemy territory, but I was black before I put on this uniform, I’ll be black when I take it off, and I’ll be black the day they lay me to rest in it: protest away, Mr. Kaepernick. That’s what I serve for.”
THAT is a free nation, boys and girls. That is worth celebrating. And while Donald Trump runs around telling our country, and the globe, what a shithole we are, and passing out campaign signs that read “Rebuild America!” one just needs to use the Twitter app on your phone to see that no, we don’t need to make America great again, Mr Trump. We already are pretty gotdamn great. When you have soldiers defending the right to protest of a citizen who doesn’t salute the flag in such protest — the same one that they defend — how can you acknowledge that we are anything but?
We have matters and inequality and injustice that need our attention, but the insinuation that my nation is anything but the greatest on Earth is a bigger insult than Kaepernick setting out the anthem in protest ever could be to those of us who truly love our nation and know exactly what she stands for.
You and your band of cowardly bullies don’t represent me or my nation, Mr Trump. But those men and women in uniform — like Anthony Hill — do.
May God rest his soul.