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17 Arrested Outside Super Bowl, Capping NFL Season of Racial Justice Protests On and Off Field

StoryFebruary 05, 2018
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The Philadelphia Eagles stunned the sports world by beating the New England Patriots Sunday night in Minneapolis with a 41-to-33 win in Super Bowl LII, the first-ever title for the Eagles. The game capped a historic season for the National Football League, in which African-American players staged league-wide protests against racial injustice and police brutality by taking the knee during the national anthem before games. Meanwhile, Patriots wide receiver Brandin Cooks was knocked out on the field and left the game with a concussion on Sunday. For more on the protests and new research on concussions, we speak with Mel Reeves, longtime human rights activist and organizer with Take a Knee Nation. And we speak with Dr. Harry Edwards, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of several books, including “The Revolt of the Black Athlete,” reissued last year for its 50th anniversary edition.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar. Protesters in Minneapolis sang his song on Sunday night as they blocked a light-rail line carrying Super Bowl ticket holders to the stadium as a protest against racial injustice. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the Philadelphia Eagles stunned the sports world by beating the New England Patriots Sunday night in Minneapolis with a 41-to-33 win in Super Bowl LII, the first-ever Super Bowl title for the Eagles. The game capped an historic season for the National Football League, in which African-American players staged league-wide protests against racial injustice and police brutality by taking the knee during the national anthem before games.

In Minneapolis, just hours ahead of the Super Bowl, several dozen members of Black Lives Matter and its supporters blocked a light-rail station near the U.S. Bank Stadium in frigid temperatures to protest against racial injustice. They all wore sweatshirts that read “You Can’t Play with Black Lives.” During the action, one protester read a list of demands.

PROTESTER: We, the Black Visions Collective and the Black Lives Matter Global Network, call for divestment from the deadly systems of oppression that harm black people, fracture black families and disrupt black futures. Here in Minneapolis, we call for an immediate freeze of police hiring. No more cops! We call for the police budget to be rolled back, until our tax dollars no longer fund the harassment, brutalization and murder of black people.

AMY GOODMAN: About 17 protesters were arrested in the action.

And again, if you watched the Super Bowl, you may have noticed that Patriots wide receiver Brandon Cooks was knocked out on the field and left the game with a concussion—or maybe that’s why you didn’t watch.

Well, for more on the protests and new research on concussions, as well as what happened outside the stadium, we’re joined by two guests: in Minneapolis, Mel Reeves, longtime human rights activist, organizer of Take a Knee conference, and in Palo Alto, California, we speak with the legendary sports and movement historian Dr. Harry Edwards, professor emeritus of sociology at University of California, Berkeley, author of a number of books, including The Revolt of the Black Athlete, reissued last year for its 50th anniversary edition, was the architect of the 1968 Olympic Project for Human Rights, which was—well, resulted in the most famous photograph from the Olympics. That’s right, 1968, Mexico City, the Black Power salute.

This is Democracy Now! Mel Reeves, let’s go to you first in Minneapolis. Talk about why 17 people got arrested, why you were outside protesting.

MEL REEVES: How are you? I think there was a little confusion. I’m from Take a Knee Nation, and, actually, we organized a conference called “Race, Police Violence and the Right to Protest” over the weekend, where we had about 15 mothers that traveled to the Twin Cities from all over the country, and they told their stories and made it—the problem of police violence is just the stark reality that it is. We also had young people who had taken a knee from around the country join us. And so, what we had was an anti-police violence—so, there were like three actions yesterday. So, I’m sorry about the confusion. I’m actually not Black Lives Matter. But Take a Knee Nation had representatives from Cincinnati, Boston, New York, Chicago and a few other places that were out next to the stadium yesterday. We protested, and we called for an end to police violence, at the end of our conference. And our conference was two days, Saturday and Sunday, where people got a chance to hear from these families who had lost their children to police violence, and also young people who had taken a knee.

And out of that conference, we came up with a few demands ourselves. One is that we demand that the police, any time they mistreat a citizen, that they are punished and held accountable and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And then we’re demanding that all the cases be reopened. And what this is about, it’s like after the civil rights movement was successful, they went back and looked at the cases in which black people had been mutilated and murdered and raped, and no one was held accountable for. So, after the civil rights movement and everybody was in agreement that Jim Crow and segregation and the terrorism of black people was not accepted, it became acceptable to go back and look at those cases and actually convict folks, because they had clearly done wrong. And in this case, there are very, very few justifiable killings of the police by anybody, not just black folks. So, those are—were our central demands coming out of our conference.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mel Reeves, what about—remind our viewers and listeners around the country—the particular conditions in Minneapolis, in terms of police abuse and police killings over the past year or two?

MEL REEVES: Yeah, that’s a good question. You would think that, and it would seem like, this would not be a place where that occurs. But as you guys have talked about, I think, you know, we have some great disparities.

So, just recently, Justine Damond was killed, under some really questionable circumstances, and she’s a white woman, actually. And she called the police to respond to what she thought was some kind of domestic disturbance, or she heard some woman scream in an alley, in a nicer neighborhood, actually, in Minneapolis. And she ran out to, I guess, direct the police or whatever, and she wound up dead. We still don’t know why she was killed.

And you’re all familiar with the case of Philando Castile, where he was stopped by the police, tried to tell the police that he had a registered firearm, and after he told them that, the officer, Jeronimo Yanez—and we saw it, you saw it on film, pretty much—he just opened up on him.

Before that, we had Jamar Clark, who was at a friend’s house playing cards. One of his girlfriends hurt her ankle. The EMTs came. He came out actually to check on her. Somehow, the EMTs misunderstood what he was doing. They called the police. And next thing you know, they threw him on the ground, and the next thing you know—and there were people there, actually, around it—you know, he’s shot and killed.

Before that, we had Terrance Franklin. And before that, we’ve had other cases. So, yes, this is—Minneapolis is as much America as anyplace else.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Dr. Harry Edwards into this conversation. As you listen to Mel Reeves talking about the protest at the Super Bowl, which, if you were watching the Super Bowl, you would probably have very little idea was happening outside, but also what happened on the ground inside the stadium. I don’t know how many people noticed. Yet another football player has his head slammed, taken off the field with a concussion. Talk about your concerns right now in this year of NFL protests, with so many players taking a knee, though we didn’t see that last night.

HARRY EDWARDS: Well, I think, first of all, the movement has dispersed to the point that it has no real center and no central management, no central set of goals, no central leadership. The athletes who are—who incited this movement, this Take a Knee movement, are not the leaders of it, they are the icons of it. And just as the last guest said, there’s confusion about even what they were doing outside of the stadium and around the city of Minneapolis. It’s going to continue to disperse and eventually will begin to fade, just as the Black Power movement did and so forth.

This is not to say that these issues will not continue to be important, which is why we have to focus on the issues and not the protest method. There will be other issues that are already well this side of the sports-political horizon that will come into play, one of them being the whole concussion situation. The concussion problem is going to generate an NFL league and elite collegiate football game that is overwhelmingly black. And again, if you go back and just look at the last national championship game at the collegiate level, between Clemson and Alabama, it looked like Ghana playing Nigeria. I think they both fielded virtually all-black defenses, and a majority of the players on the field at any particular time were black. So, that trend is going to continue, which is going to make the concussion issue basically a racial issue at some point, because you’re going to have 80 percent fans in the stands who are white; you’re going to have an overwhelmingly white management and directorship at both the collegiate and the professional level, where the overwhelming majority of owners are white; the commissioners of the Super 5 conferences are white; you’re going to have overwhelmingly white head coaches; but the people on the field taking the hits and getting the concussions are going to be black. That is going to turn in, at some point, to a racial issue that is going to have to be resolved. So, all of these problems are a already well-decided horizon.

But the Take a Knee movement, the movement that was incited by Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick at the San Francisco 49ers, where I’m still a consultant, that is going to begin to disperse. Not even giving Kaepernick a job in the league would help stem this dispersal of the movement at this point, any more than giving Rosa Parks her seat back would have helped disperse the Montgomery—or end the Montgomery bus boycott movement. So, we’re in a very interesting place at this time, and I think that the trying to frame up and define leadership and specific goals for the movement is going to become increasingly difficult.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Harry Edwards, I wanted to ask you: In terms of the response of the National Football League to the protests, it’s become increasingly desperate in its attempts to prevent protests from becoming public, to a degree now that the NFL is creating some kind of social justice fund, that they’re trying to convince the athletes is their response to the issues that were raised in the Take a Knee movement?

HARRY EDWARDS: Yes. One of the things that happened during the course of this whole movement was that Roger Goodell—he and I have had our ongoing conversation, going back to his very first weeks on the job, about how you move this whole process from protest to progress, because this is not something that originated in football. It’s something that came over the wall of the stadium into football, that now football has to deal with. This was something that I warned him on the very first—warned him about, the very first week or two that he took the job, that this was coming.

And what the league now is trying to do is to develop a coalitionary, collaborative relationship with players to see what they can do in terms of putting resources into that effort to move from protest to progress. Now, some people say, “Well, that’s all well and good, but the devil is in the details.” Well, that’s—”The devil is in the details” is one of those old saws and popular wisdom conventions that is absolutely untrue. You’re not here today and gone tomorrow. You’re here today and gone today. If you were gone tomorrow, you’d live forever. Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. Theft is. So, the same with this. The devil isn’t in the details. The devil is in the delivery. And it’s going to come down to what the league is actually able to deliver, relative to this situation, in terms of money, in terms of collaborating with players to put the programs together.

But in the end, it’s going to come down more to what they establish as a model for dealing with other issues that are already well this side of the sports-political horizon, including the concussion thing, more so than what they do in terms of this particular problem. This problem is going to be resolved in the community with efforts like the first guest talked about. It’s going to be resolved in the community when you bring together all of the various stakeholders in that situation and get them around the table. The NFL is not going to solve the problem of police-community relations. They can contribute, but the biggest thing to come out of this will be a model for them to work with players in terms of handling other issues as the league becomes blacker.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Dr. Harry Edwards, professor emeritus of sociology, University of California, Berkeley, a consultant with the 49ers, and also Mel Reeves with the Take a Knee Nation in Minneapolis. We’re going to do Part 2 and post it online at

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