Former NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, notorious for his protests during the national anthem, held one of his “Know Your Rights” youth camps in New Orleans this past Saturday. In an article that ran in today’s paper, the Times-Picayune described the camp thusly:
The camp “is a free campaign for youth fully funded by Colin Kaepernick to raise awareness on higher education, self empowerment, and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios,” according to the Know Your Rights website.
New Orleans has “a lot of energy, a lot of life, a lot of culture,” he says in the video below. “You can feel it in the kids.” He was a speaker at the event. The website does not state where the event was held.
The seminar covered a variety of topics, including what to do if you’re arrested. The camp website offers a New Orleans resource guide here, “full of tips on handling police encounters, free legal resources, libraries with media labs, community gardens and so much more.”
The youth camp seminar has been held in a number of cities. Back in May of last year, Kaepernick’s camp came to Chicago, and leftist magazine The Nation published a extensive write-up on its contents. The camp began with a breakfast (inspired by the Black Panthers’ free breakfast programs) and distributing t-shirts listing ten fairly generic “rights” (inspired by the Black Panthers’ Ten-Point Program).
The camp then proceeded with a brief appearance by the rapper “Common” (who praised Kaepernick’s NFL protests), a seminar by writer Ameer Loggins on Chicago’s history of segregation, another seminar from First Defense Legal Aid on how to deal with police (with an emphasis on remaining silent and invoking the right to counsel), and breakout sessions on “holistic health” and “financial literacy.” Following the seminars Kaepernick, closed by emphasizing how important it was for him to trace his African heritage, and provided attendees with Ancestry DNA kits so that they could do the same.
On the whole, except for the shout-outs to the Black Panthers, it sounds like Kaepernick’s youth camps are fairly tame. However, this is exactly what I would expect from Kaepernick. Most people invoke a radical legacy to push even more radical ideas. They protest in ways viewed as offensive because they want to draw attention to unpopular ideas. Kaepernick, on the other hand, clothes himself in radical garb, but his actual agenda usually turns out to be fairly mundane.
Just take Kaepernick’s ten “rights” featured on the aforementioned t-shirts:
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE FREE.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE HEALTHY.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE BRILLIANT.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE SAFE.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE LOVED.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE COURAGEOUS.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE ALIVE.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE TRUSTED.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE EDUCATED.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW YOUR RIGHTS.
These are not radical ideas. Far from red meat for radical change, they’re downright mushy. Although they are supposed to hearken back to the Black Panthers Ten-Point Plan, they sound more like the Ten-Point Plan as rewritten during a meeting of corporate executives so as not to offend the consumer.
Of course, the real Black Panthers were quite atrocious. They initially engaged in armed posturing, then subsequently claimed to eschew violence as they devolved further into a criminal organization. Shootouts with police, robberies, racketeering, and even murder, mar any positive legacy that the Black Panthers may claim. This is certainly true in New Orleans, where the Panthers engaged in a gunfight with the NOPD when the latter tried to evict them from their headquarters near the Desire Street housing development.
The Panthers claimed to be the subject of persecution, and they weren’t wrong — J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI was indeed attempting to dismantle the Panthers through extralegal means, and local police were often corrupt, racist, and overzealous. Still, anybody with a modicum of common sense could see that the Panthers were engaging in widespread criminal activity that had little to do with uplifting black America or helping the poor. The Panthers’ breakfast and education programs are all well and good, as was Al Capone’s soup kitchen during the Great Depression, but neither can excuse organized crime.
Nevertheless, during their time the Panthers were viewed by many on the left as mysterious and heroic for taking a stand against radical oppression in the face of a government crackdown. For wealthy urban elites seeking to establish their political bona fides, they practically became a fashion accessory. Panthers were invited to posh parties as part of the new “radical chic.” As Tom Wolfe notably wrote in 1970 in New York Magazine describing a party at Leonard Bernstein’s:
[A]nd now, in the season of Radical Chic, the Black Panthers. That huge Panther there, the one Felicia is smiling her tango smile at, is Robert Bay, who just 41 hours ago was arrested in an altercation with the police, supposedly over a .38-caliber revolver that someone had, in a parked car in Queens at Northern Boulevard and 104th Street or some such unbelievable place, and taken to jail on a most unusual charge called “criminal facilitation.” And now he is out on bail and walking into Leonard and Felicia Bernstein’s 13-room penthouse duplex on Park Avenue. Harassment & Hassles, Guns & Pigs, Jail & Bail—they’re real, these Black Panthers. The very idea of them, these real revolutionaries, who actually put their lives on the line, runs through Lenny’s duplex like a rogue hormone.
These are no civil-rights Negroes wearing gray suits three sizes too big—
—no more interminable Urban League banquets in hotel ballrooms where they try to alternate the blacks and whites around the tables as if they were stringing Arapaho beads—
—these are real men!
Leonard Bernstein’s party is what Kaepernick is really evoking, and has been invoking, since he began his protests. Kaepernick is trying to paint himself as successor to the radicals of the 60’s and 70’s, fighting their same battles. But far from an insurgent, he is actually a just a wealthy celebrity dilettante, and like Bernstein’s vapid guests seeking cheap thrills, he is using radicalism stylistically, not substantively.
Taken collectively, Kapernick’s actions come off like those of a over-privileged suburban teenager buying his first Che Guervara t-shirt. First, Kaepernick publicly refused to show pride in the United States, explaining his decision to remain on the bench during the national anthem: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Shortly thereafter, he appeared publicly wearing a t-shirt with photographs of of a 1960 meeting between Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro and Malcolm X over the phrase “Like Minds Think Alike.” Later, Kaepernick’s charity donated $25,000 to Assata’s Daughters, a group honoring a former Black Panther convicted of murdering a police officer who later escaped custody and fled to Cuba.
However, when push comes to shove, Kaepernick has been anything but radical. Kaepernick has kept his actual policy proposals rather vague. Based on descriptions in the media, it would appear his youth camps mostly just teach healthy eating, proper dress, education, and respectfully asserting your rights with the police. There is certainly talk about past and current discrimination, as well as appeals to racial solidarity, but it’s far from the combative stance taken by the Black Panthers. Nobody is being admonished to fight the cops (quite the opposite). If Kaepernick has been spreading a message of violence and revolution, I haven’t heard it.
The problem with Kaepernick’s tactics, however, is that they’re counterproductive. He’s obsessed with radical chic, but doesn’t want to actually be radical. He wants to offend people and cast himself as some besieged rebel, but he doesn’t want to actually propose anything offensive. From the perspective of productive advocacy, this yields the worst of both worlds; it makes moderate ideas seem radical, and thus less likely to be embraced by the public at large.
Unfortunately, Kaepernick won’t go away. It’s a shame, because informing young people about their legal rights and encouraging youngsters to pursue self-improvement are hardly controversial. For that matter, neither is feeding them breakfast. Alas, Kaepernick continually makes the mundane seem radical, and stubbornly refuses to see that as a problem.
Owen Courrèges is an attorney living in New Orleans. He has previously written for Uptown Messenger, the Reason Foundation, and the Lone Star Times.