The Wisconsin state Assembly passed a resolution Tuesday to honor prominent black Americans during Black History Month in February — but only after Republicans blocked it until black Democratic lawmakers agreed to remove the name of quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Democratic Rep. David Crowley of Milwaukee, who authored the resolution, called the episode “a textbook example of white privilege” and a “slap in the face.”
“Many of these people that you don’t agree with will still be in the history books that your children and grandchildren will be reading,” Crowley said on the Assembly floor.
Kaepernick, who was born in Milwaukee, has drawn a firestorm of controversy after he began kneeling in 2016 during the national anthem to protest poor treatment of black Americans.
Kaepernick began kneeling instead of sitting during the anthem after speaking with Army veteran and former Seattle Seahawks long snapper Nate Boyer.
Supporters say Kaepernick is exercising his First Amendment right to protest what he sees as racial injustice. Critics say he is denigrating the American flag and American principles.
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, a member of the Assembly’s Republican leadership team, which has no black members, said Republicans wouldn’t support the resolution that included Kaepernick “for obvious reasons,” referring to protests during the national anthem.
Democratic Rep. LaKeshia Myers of Milwaukee said Kaepernick “decided to take on ownership of a problem that he saw, which was police brutality.”
Milwaukee law enforcement has had a fractured relationship with its black residents in recent years.
In 2016, the city paid $5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by 74 black residents who said police illegally strip-searched them between 2008 and 2012. In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union in Wisconsin sued the Milwaukee Police department for targeting black and Latino residents by stopping and questioning them without cause.
Last year, Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown, the son of a suburban Chicago police officer, was tased and arrested after two Milwaukee police officers spotted his car parked across two handicap spaces. The footage of Brown’s arrest was released on May 23, 2018, the same day the NFL announced that their players will be fined if they were to protest during the National Anthem.
Kaepernick was one of more than two dozen prominent black Americans nominated by the Wisconsin legislature’s black lawmakers to be honored during February, including former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and baseball giant Reggie Jackson.
“Whether you dislike the method that he used, understand that it is a part of America’s DNA — not just African-Americans’ protest,” said Myers, who was the lone vote against the resolution.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Steineke said the caucus wanted a resolution free of controversial figures so the entire body could support it.
“I think it’s important to recognize the contributions of literally thousands and thousands of African-Americans to our state’s history but also trying to find people who, again, bring us together. Not look at people who draw some sort of vitriol from either side,” Vos said.
Wisconsin state rep. Jonathan Brostoff, whose district is in Kaepernick’s hometown of Milwaukee, released a statement regarding his view of the state’s GOP member’s attempt to erase Kaepernick’s name.
“In the long tradition of Black athlete/activists including Jack Johnson, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and many others, Kaepernick shows us that those who have a platform can and should use it to speak out on behalf of the oppressed,” Brostoff said in the statement posted to his website.
“Unfortunately, Kaepernick finds himself today being demonized by the same types of people who demonized countless Black activists before him. Just as Muhammad Ali was banned from boxing for a time for his political views and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was called unpatriotic for his criticisms of the US government, Kaepernick faces constant criticism for doing the right thing,” Brostoff said. “Instead of being pushed aside for being ‘divisive,’ Colin Kaepernick deserves to be raised up and recognized not only as a great Wisconsinite, but as a great American.”
Sun-Times’ Evan F. Moore contributed to this report.