Lost in the chatter about NFL protests, especially after President Trump weighed in, is one inarguable fact: The protests began in the eighth year of the Obama presidency.
In August 2016, the Patient Zero of the protest movement, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, announced, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Kaepernick continued, “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
By this time Barack Obama had presided over the country for more than seven years. For all seven of those years, an African-American headed the Department of Justice.
By this time, too, a Democratic mayor ran every major city in America, including the most troubled ones such as Baltimore, St. Louis and Chicago. It was hard to know who Kaepernick thought could fix the problems that troubled him.
True, the number of “bodies in the streets” was climbing in the year proceeding Kaepernick’s delusional protest. Three thousand more Americans were murdered in 2016 than in 2014, but it was not the police or the Trump supporters who had caused the spike in black homicides.
If there was any one person responsible for that spike, it was the same person most responsible for the slow-motion homicide of the NFL – sports fan Barack Obama.
The unraveling began on March 23, 2012, an election year. On that morning, after introducing the next head of the World Bank in the White House Rose Garden, Obama took just one question, almost assuredly pre-arranged.
It addressed the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida four weeks prior. “Obviously this is a tragedy,” said Obama solemnly. “I can only imagine what these parents are going through.”
Obama continued, “When I think about this boy I think about my own kids, and I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together, federal, state and local to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.”
Had the president stopped here, he would have said enough to appease if not the hard core among the activists, at least the media. He would have won no honors for political courage, but as he knew, courage led in another direction altogether.
By this time, the White House had access to all the information the Sanford Police Department did. The courageous step for Obama would have been to defend the Sanford Police Department and to demand an end to the media lynching of George Zimmerman, the man who shot Martin in obvious self-defense.
As an African-American, Obama had more latitude to do this than a white politician would have. He chose not to. Concluded Obama after some meaningless temporizing: “But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon. If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”
Obama would not have known that Zimmerman was a civil rights activist who openly supported him for president, but even if he had, that support would not have mattered against the need to keep the base mobilized in an election year.
So he compensated for his shaky racial identity by throwing in with the activists and by sacrificing justice in the process.
In July 2013, Zimmerman was acquitted. The prosecutors had no case, and they knew it, as did most Americans who followed the trial.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, not a prominent Democrat anywhere defended the verdict. Many challenged it outright.
Six days after the verdict, Obama weighed in. Expanding on his remarks from more than a year prior, Obama once again identified himself with Martin, now even more intimately. “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” said Obama.
Obama did acknowledge that young men black men “are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence,” but he abandoned this thread prematurely.
Although he had the opportunity to shake up the debate, he instead pulled his ultimate punch, not in what he said, but in what he did not say. Obama let the idea stand that Martin was one of the victims of violence, but not one of the perpetrators.
If the president had called attention to the fractures in Martin’s domestic life, his suppressed criminal record, his all but unseen descent into drugs and violence, and especially his reckless attack on Zimmerman, Obama might have lent a dollop of moral seriousness to his remarks.
But he did not. Instead, he tacitly encouraged his audience to project their anger and anxiety on to racial scapegoat, George Zimmerman.
The Black Lives Matter movement began as a hashtag immediately after the verdict. In the next three years, starting with Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, the BLM crowd would serve up a series of a racial scapegoats for confused souls like Kaepernick to brood about.
The media, of course, urged them on. In so doing, they set in motion the dynamics that resulted in the 20 percent increase in homicides over the last two years.
Throughout it all, Obama, like today’s NFL team presidents, chose to keep a wary silence. He and they will pay a small price for their cowardice, but as happens so often when the left gets involved, young black men will pay a whole lot more.