Two Knees: 2020 and 2016

The Story:

In 2016, after high-profile shootings of two black men by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Charlotte, North Carolina, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, adopted the practice of silent kneeling during the pre-game playing of the US national anthem at 49ers football games. This peaceful protest was very controversial at the time, but it is receiving new and respectful attention with the hindsight of the intervening four years.


On May 25, 2020, George Floyd died, because, while four police officers held him down in the course of an arrest for alleged forgery, one of those officers applied his knee to Floyd’s neck for several minutes.

That killing was caught on a cell phone camera, and it went viral. The consequences included peaceful protests in many cities, looting and violence by people using those protests as a pretext or distraction, a sea change in the tenor of the ongoing Presidential campaign, and the arrest of the four officers on charges of murder in the one case, aiding and abetting in the others.

The Thing to Know:

The murderous knee of Officer Chauvin of the Minneapolis police has had the quite incidental consequence of reminding people of the knee of Mr. Kaepernick, which has now become a synecdoche of non-violent and expressive protest directed at genuine injustice.


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