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Black St. Louis Senator and NYC Councilman Sit During Pledge of Allegiance in Acts of Protest

Councilman Jumaane Williams (left, photo credit: Charles Eckert) and St. Louis Sen. Jamilah Nasheed (right, photo credit: KMOV News).

Councilman Jumaane Williams (left, photo credit: Charles Eckert) and St. Louis Sen. Jamilah Nasheed (right, photo credit: KMOV News).

The gripping message behind Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem has spread to football fields all across the nation as of late. Now a Black city councilman in New York and a state senator from St. Louis are standing (or sitting) in solidarity with Kaepernick in his fight against social injustice in America.

According to CBS New York, Brooklyn council member Jumaane Williams (D) refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance during a City Council meeting Wednesday. Williams posted a picture to his Instagram account showing him seated with his head bowed while his fellow council members stood to recite the pledge.

“A few moments ago, I made a private protest public,” he wrote in the post. “In good conscience, I couldn’t continue to protest quietly without using it to highlight the plight of so many. As a person who loves the country of his birth, believes in it and is privileged to have reached a modicum of success in this chosen field, I believe it is my duty to do all I can to raise the voice of those who feel voiceless and who struggle everyday.”

Williams re-iterated that he felt it was his responsibility to stand up for the communities he represents — particularly those where residents are more likely to experience police brutality and social injustice. He asserted that he isn’t anti-American, but simply wants to shed light on the issues that impact certain populations of America.

“I’m no less patriotic, so I reject all of those notions that somehow the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, are the sole definition of patriotism,” Williams said.

He also revealed to CBS New York that the motive and message behind his public protest was inspired by Kaepernick’s. The San Francisco 49er began sitting, and then kneeling, during the national anthem in an act of protest against police violence and social injustice toward African-Americans. 

“I am choosing to recommit to this personal protest in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, who has bravely decided to kneel down during the national anthem in tribute to oppressed Black Americans,” Williams said in a statement. “I only hope that local professional athletes will be inspired by this show of strength and join Colin in his protest.”

“This type of non-violent protest is not disrespectful as some have suggested,” he continued. “He [Kaepernick] deserves support, not criticism for his actions. What does it say about our country when there is a national outrage over an athlete sitting out the national anthem, but the same outrage isn’t expressed when a young Black man is killed for no reason?”

The city councilman backed up his argument by citing the recent pay raise of New York City cop Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who placed Eric Garner in a choke hold that ultimately killed him. Pantaleo was never charged for Garner’s death.

A recent probe by Politico found that the disgraced officer received a sharp rise in pay after the July 2014 incident, raking in an extra $36,000 in overtime pay and additional earnings.

“This man, who murdered Eric Garner, was not only not prosecuted or punished for his crime, he was rewarded with increased pay,” Williams said. “Where is the justice in that, especially as we struggle with issues of transparency when it comes to police records, including Pantaleo’s, and are still fighting to have a vote on the widely supported Right to Know Act.”

The influence of Kaepernick’s protest has even spread to the Missouri State Capitol. According to Missouri CBS affiliate KRCG13, state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) also remained seated during the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at the capitol Wednesday.

“I decided to not stand for the pledge of allegiance today to stand in solidarity with the cause of injustice that Colin Kaepernick has shined a bright light upon,” Nasheed said in statement. “I am not anti-America, and in fact, it is because I love this country that I take this stand.”

The senator cited a list of reasons for her protest, including the injustices of police brutality, mass incarceration, unequal pay for women and voter suppression, among other things.

“The pledge of allegiance and the national anthem stand not just for what America is, but for what it should be,” she said. ” ‘Liberty and justice for all’ are not just words – they are our country’s ideals. We must commit ourselves to honoring those principles not just by speech, but also through our actions.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Nasheed is no stranger to demonstrating in order to bring about social change. She was arrested in 2014 amid the protests that followed the police shooting of Michael Brown.

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