Texas Congressman cites Alabama civil rights events as he defends NFL players taking a knee

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The internet is abuzz with a video of Democratic U.S. Rep. from Texas, Beto O’Rourkewho’s invoking Alabama civil rights history in his quest to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

During a town hall meeting in Houston last week, O’Rourke was asked by an attendee whether he thought NFL players who choose take a knee during the national anthem are disrespecting the U.S. military and American people.

“My short answer is no, I don’t think it’s disrespectful,” O’Rourke answered. “Here is my longer answer – but I’m gonna try to make sure I get this right, because I think it’s a really important question. And reasonable people can disagree on this issue. Let’s begin there, and it makes them no less American to come down on a different conclusion on this issue. Right? You can feel as the young man does, you can feel as I do, you are every bit as American all the same.”

O’Rourke went on to reference the 1963 Ku Klux Klan bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. that killed the girls. Along with the March 7, 1965 march across Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. When a group of roughly 525 African American protesters planned to cross the bridge on their civil rights march to Montgomery to demand the right to vote. At the bridge they where they were met by more than 50 state troopers and a few dozen men on horseback. When the demonstrators refused to turn back, they were brutally beaten, leaving at least 17 hospitalized, and 40 others injured.

“Those who died in Philadelphia, Mississippi, for the crime of trying to be a man, trying to be a woman in this country, the young girls who died in the church bombing. Those who were beaten within an inch of their life crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama with John Lewis,” O’Rourke detailed referencing several other historical civil rights challenges Americans faced.

O’Rourke went on to say he thinks NFL games are essentially a great, nonviolent platform for players to protest police brutality and injustice during the national anthem.

“Non-violently, peacefully, while the eyes of this country are watching these games, they take a knee to bring our attention and focus to this problem to ensure that we fix it,” O’Rourke concluded.

Read his full response below:

My short answer is no, I don’t think it’s disrespectful. Here’s my longer answer, but I’m going to try to make sure I make that I get this right because I think it’s a really important question. And reasonable people can disagree on this issue, let’s begin there. And it makes them no less American to come down on a different conclusion on this issue, right? You can feel as the young man [who asked the question]does, you can feel as I do, you’re every bit as American, all the same.

But I’m reminded – someone mentioned reading the Taylor Branch book … ‘Parting the Waters: [America] in the King Years’. And when you read that book and find out what Dr. King and this non-violent, peaceful movement to secure better – ’cause they didn’t get full – civil rights for their fellow Americans, the challenges that they face.

Those who died in Philadelphia, Mississippi, for the crime of trying to be a man, trying to be a woman in this country, the young girls who died in the church bombing. Those who were beaten within an inch of their life crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama with John Lewis, those were punched in the face, spat on, dragged out by their collar at the Woolworth lunch counter for sitting with white people at that same lunch counter in the same country where their fathers may have bled the same blood on the battlefields of Omaha Beach or Okinawa or anywhere that anyone ever served this country.

The freedoms we have were purchased not just by those in uniform, and they definitely were. But also by those who took their lives into their hands riding those Greyhound buses, the Freedom Riders in the Deep South in the 1960s who knew full well that they would be arrested, and they were, serving time in the Mississippi State Penitentiary. Rosa Parks, getting from the back of the bus to the front of the bus.

Peaceful non-violent protests including taking a knee at a football game to point out that black men, unarmed, black teenagers, unarmed and black children, unarmed, are being killed at a frightening level right now including by members of law enforcement without accountability and without justice. And this problem – as grave as it is – is not going to fix itself. And they’re frustrated, frankly, with people like me and those in positions of public trust and power, who have been unable to resolve this or bring justice for what has been done and to stop it from continuing to happen in this country. So non-violent, peacefully, while the eyes of this country are watching these games, they take a knee to bring our attention and our focus to this problem to ensure that we fix it.

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