Taking a Knee

June 12, 2020 Updated: June 16, 2020


The protests, rioting, and looting that followed the death of George Floyd introduced a strange new twist on an old practice: police, politicians, and other supplicants kneeling before protesters.

To be more specific, white supplicants kneeling before black protesters.

“Taking a knee” began when a rich and famous black athlete very publicly went to one knee as a sign of what he saw as his oppression and that of his fellow black people. His gesture was quickly mimicked by other privileged black athletes. It did not seem to occur to any of them that poor black people had much more in common with poor white people than they did with fabulously rich black athletes. It also did not seem to occur to these privileged athletes that America had been very good to them.

Be that as it may, somehow popular culture has reversed this practice of black athletes taking a knee, so that now the white person is expected to do the kneeling.

It’s now done regularly and often by white people who are eager to show that their sympathies lie with black people, and groups such as Black Lives Matter. Many white politicians and police have been seen doing this very publicly. It’s not clear if this odd practice will now become a regular part of our culture, or if it will be a fleeting phenomenon.

Knee-Bending Leadership

It’s clear that taking a knee is meant to be more than a meaningless gesture. The same political leaders who are engaging in the practice also departed radically from past practice when looting and rioting broke out.

In all past instances of social unrest, political leaders would endorse the right of people to peacefully protest, but sternly warn those who might be tempted to use the opportunity to loot, riot, and burn that such behavior would be shut down by police. At one time, troublemakers were advised that “looters would be shot on sight.” Although such harsh messages are no longer conveyed, even in relatively recent times police were ordered to act forcefully to ensure that protests remained peaceful.

It has long been recognized that disorder and anarchy bring only bad things. The sooner law and order are restored, the fewer lives will be lost.

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York is a good example of a leader who knew how to deal with troublemakers. During his time as mayor, he made it clear that while police would protect peaceful protests, the first person to throw a brick would be arrested. Police understood their role very well—and they knew that as long as they were doing their jobs properly, the mayor had their back. That is the proven method that actually saves lives. Troublemakers are brought up short. Looting and burning simply are not tolerated. Police are supported.

But the new breed of leaders—the “knee benders”—don’t agree with that philosophy. The new method they employ is to show sympathy for all the people taking part in the protests, and to ignore the looting, burning, and rioting undertaken by the troublemaking element.

They refuse to distinguish between legitimate protestors and thugs. Instead, they pretend that looters and arsonists are just blowing off a bit of steam, instead of calling these thugs out for the criminals that they are. They refuse to acknowledge the serious danger that anarchist groups, such as Antifa, pose to democracies.

Playing With Fire

These “woke” leaders agree with the worst things the activists say about their country—that it’s a racist, dreadful place—instead of standing up for the essential goodness of the American people, and the obvious success of the great American experiment.

Police are ordered to run away from besieged police stations, criticized by their leaders for taking police action, and told to stand aside and let looters and thugs carry on about their business. Astoundingly, police who bend the knee to the protestors are praised by this new breed of knee-bending leaders.

The United States came very close to vigilante justice and true anarchy during its week of protests and rioting. The misguided leaders who bent the knee instead of doing their jobs were literally playing with fire.

The knee benders failed to recognize that leadership means standing up for law and order. They put their own agendas first and failed to denounce criminal behavior. And they failed to understand that they are now in a trap of their own making.

The George Floyd incident will not be the last instance of police brutality or apparent racism. The sad fact is that disproportionately more crimes are committed by black men than white men. This has much more to do with absent fathers and unwed teenage mothers than racism. There will be more unpleasant encounters between police and black men.

If every time there is an allegation of brutality or racism leaders bend their knee while rioting and looting are allowed to take place unhindered, the country will be ungovernable. Citizens will protect themselves.

Causing Fear

It’s an irony that the same kind of politician who is inclined to bend his or her knee tends to support gun reform.

The riots, looting, and burning they have allowed have probably ended any serious gun reform for many years. Ordinary citizens stuck at home watching endless pictures of looting, assaults, and burning have been scared witless. They have seen their leaders and their police do nothing while this mayhem occurs.

The whole argument for gun removal legislation is that citizens don’t need guns because their leaders and the police will protect them. People now know this is not true. Gun sales will skyrocket.

And what about the new and improved race relations the rioting has supposedly ushered in? In fact, those same truly frightened people at home have spent a week watching mostly black faces looting, burning, and assaulting people. In effect, there has been an endless replay of Willie Horton ads. If you’re too young to know what I mean, Google it.

By allowing this to happen, the knee benders may have set back race relations in the eyes of some by a decade. They tell themselves that their non-action has resulted in a wonderful new relationship between blacks and whites. Perhaps for some. But from others, there is only more fear.

Politicians will publicly tell each other how much these “peaceful protests” have accomplished, but the truth is that most of the ordinary working people will never forgive this carnage.

The average person doesn’t believe they live in an awful, racist country. They believe their country is essentially a good country and that we’re essentially a good people. They believe in opportunities for everyone prepared to work hard—but they definitely don’t believe that people should get a free ride just by complaining. Those ordinary people come in all colors.

Hurting Black People

But what of all those small-business owners who watched in horror as their shop windows were smashed, and their businesses looted and burned? Many of these people are not white people—many black—who were just getting on their feet again when this mindless destruction was inflicted on them. How many of these businesses will even begin to come back? How many people in the poor parts of the city will even have places to shop in the future?

Remember, the looters didn’t dare to go to the gated communities and the tony areas where the knee benders lived—they knew they would risk getting shot if they did. Instead, they did their damage in the areas of the city where the real people live.

I remember walking through the devastated streets of Detroit the summer after the 1967 riots—perhaps the deadliest race riots in America’s history. Entire streets remained boarded up. Many businesses never came back. The window smashers and looters destroyed entire streets, and the people they hurt most were the honest, hardworking black people that they left to try to pick up the pieces. Detroit was never the same.

Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot wrote “Black Day In July” to commemorate those days when Detroit burned—a song that was considered so incendiary it was banned in 30 states. By failing to stop the looting, burning, and destruction, the knee-bending politicians have repeated that long-ago disaster in Detroit—they have created many boarded-window monuments to their folly that will be seen by many people for a very long time.

Perpetuating Race Obsession

And finally, by accepting the falsehood that the United States is fundamentally a racist country, the knee benders have condemned their children and grandchildren to an endless repetition of the race obsession that has been allowed to destroy the true Martin Luther King Jr. vision that everyone should strive for—where a person is judged by the content of his character and not by the color of his skin.

The truth is, Western civilization has never been as non-racist in its entire history as it is today. True racists are almost an endangered species. The overwhelming consensus is that everyone deserves a chance to succeed.

But the knee-bending politicians want this to be all about white versus black. Black Lives Matter is allowing the politicians to use them as their useful idiots. They have both built up Floyd to be some kind of a martyr. He was nothing of the kind. No, he didn’t deserve to die. The police responsible for his death will all go to trial. But Floyd was a career criminal, and at the time of his unlawful death, he had fentanyl and meth in his system. His long criminal record includes an act of violence toward a pregnant woman. The fact that the mainstream media and Black Lives Matter have built him up to be a hero is inexcusable.

It’s also entirely possible that the officers charged in relation to his death will not be convicted as charged. The decision to raise the charge from murder 3 to murder 2 may have been unwise. Authorities need to prepare for the possibility of that happening—that the streets will explode in outrage if that happens.

And given the many confrontations between police and black men, there will certainly be incidents in the future. The authorities need to plan for that. The public should be advised that peaceful protests will be allowed, but any criminality will be instantly stopped and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Responsible politicians must give police orders to do their jobs properly—not to “take a knee” and let mayhem occur.

Taking Responsibility

Floyd is unfortunately typical of far too many black men. According to Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, “Blacks commit homicides at more than eight times the rate of whites and hispanics combined.” A police officer in the United States is 18.5 times more likely to die at the hands of a black man than an unarmed black man is to die at the hands of a police officer, according to Mac Donald’s calculations. The knee benders want this awful truth to be ignored. The truth is that they are using the misery of black people—who are so often victims of black thugs—for their own electoral advantage.

Too many black men also fail to act responsibly and accept parental responsibility. I was reading a biography of Muddy Waters—a true musical hero. What struck me was that he had relationships with women all over the country, and did not even know how many children he had fathered. And he was typical of far too many black men.

President Barack Obama tried to draw attention to this depressing fact, as did Thomas Sowell and many other important thinkers. But the situation hasn’t changed. Black rappers and rich black athletes glorify this irresponsibility instead of calling it out. Until more black men start acting responsibly—and until more black women stop letting themselves be used by these men—the children from those father-absent homes will continue to end up in unpleasant confrontations with police officers. They will continue to fill the jails.

The knee benders know that. Black Lives Matter knows that. They don’t care, because it doesn’t fit their political agendas. They want to keep the black versus white grievance game humming along.

How will all of this play out in November? The 1972 landslide victory of Richard Nixon over George McGovern might be the precedent. McGovern was the “woke” politician of his time. The voters saw right through him, as they now see through the people they elected to protect them—the people who “took a knee” instead of doing their jobs.

Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.