SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - Protesters gathered in front of the San Francisco Police Officers Association offices today in support of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who came under fire from the police union this week after he protested police shootings.
Kaepernick drew national media attention when he refused to stand for the national anthem before the 49ers' preseason football game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara last Friday.
In statements made after the game, Kaepernick indicated that his decision was intended as a protest of the country's treatment of minorities and of police shootings. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way," Kaepernick said to NFL.com. "There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
In response, the SFPOA sent a letter Monday to 49ers President Jed York and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell calling for an apology and urging the 49ers to "denounce his foolish statements and separate yourself from his actions." "While we certainly acknowledge Mr. Kaepernick's First Amendment right to remain seated during the National Anthem, as inappropriate as that may be, we will not stand by while he attacks police officers in this country," the letter said.
Protesters today from groups including the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition praised Kaepernick's willingness to speak out.
Woods was fatally shot last December by several San Francisco police officers in the city's Bayview District and cellphone footage from bystanders of the shooting drew widespread outrage.
"When we have a figure like him that's willing to talk about these issues, because so many people are not, we have to not only support him, but we have to stand with him when he stands with us," Public Defender Jeff Adachi said at the rally. "He knew he was going to catch hell for this, he knew that he was going to be attacked, he knew that he was putting himself at risk but he did it anyway," Adachi said.
Civil rights attorney John Burris said the police union "did not want to hear the message." "They want to kill the messenger," Burris said. Alan Schlosser with the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the leadership of the police union as "reactionary," noting that their letter failed to mention recent police shootings in San Francisco and scandals involving racist text messages exchanged by officers.
Schlosser called Kaepernick a "First Amendment success story" because his actions had generated important public conversations. "My message to Colin is you're not alone, you're in good company," Schlosser said. "Keep speaking out." The police union's Sixth Street offices were closed for the day.
Union president Martin Halloran sent out a statement saying the union respected the protesters' right to free expression.
"There is no doubt that we disagree with some of the more outrageous arguments made against our union by the protesters," Halloran said. "But the bottom line is that the SFPOA is one of the most diverse police unions in the country, and our 2100 members are committed to fighting racism in all its forms."