On any given Sunday afternoon, millions of Black men and women gather around their TVs, cheering on their favorite football teams. Then, when they leave their friends’ houses after the game, they must proceed with extreme caution as African Americans (in comparison to Whites) are twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police, according to the Center for American Progress.
These stops (whether because of racial profiling or legitimate reasons) have too often ended in police brutality, even deaths of unarmed Black people. This is the reason that a group of mothers has now turned to the National Football League, which makes millions of dollars a year with Black support, to get involved with a goal of ending what often appears to be a relentless attack on Blacks by police.
“We are writing to request a meeting with you to discuss the ongoing national disgrace of unaccountable police shootings. We ask this because of our knowledge about the issue and because we have been approached by NFL players who would like to see the League more involved with projects that promote healing of our communities,” wrote Collette Flanagan, founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality in a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “Mothers Against Police Brutality believes that the NFL could become a very effective voice in addressing this crisis, which involves thousands of families each year. We commend the NFL for its work on domestic violence, and we urge you to bring the same morale outrage to the unjust use of deadly force by police, which so closely impacts your players personally and the communities in which so many of them grew up. Now is the time for the NFL to step up.”
The letter goes on to ask Goodell to create a task force that would serve to help promote community healing and unity around the issue which has exploded nationally and internationally in recent years with the growth of social media organizing and viral cell phone videos showing actual brutality and police shootings.
The letter asks for a meeting to “discuss our work to end the national crisis of police deadly force, which claimed more than 1,000 lives last year, and to save lives, particularly the lives of young black and Latino men.”
It also asks Goodell to help “arrange meetings with players and owners; and urge the NFL to form a high level task force that will address police shootings, police use of excessive force, and innovative ways that policing can protect and serve the people of every community in America.”
Mothers Against Police Brutality, a national organization based in Dallas, was founded to end the “killing of unarmed and mentally ill persons by law enforcement agencies; to change the deadly force policies and practices in the City of Dallas and nationally to support families who have lost loved ones to police violence; and to help restore trust between the police and the communities they are sworn to serve and protect,” according to a statement from the organization.
Flanagan founded MAPB after her 25-year-old unarmed son, Clinton Allen, was shot seven times by a Dallas police officer in 2013. A grand jury refused to indict the officer, Clark Staller, in the killing after he and authorities claimed the unarmed Allen was assaulting him in the March 10, 2013 incident. Allen’s parents have contended that the shooting was not necessary and that he was not given immediate medical help even as he struggled to stay alive.
Flanagan’s letter sought to sensitize Goodell to the NFL’s responsibility to those who are among their primary supporters (Black men and women) as well as members of the NFL.
“The mothers in our organization (and, indeed, most African American mothers) fear for their son’s life whenever he encounters a police officer, including mothers of NFL players. An African American NFL player, when off the field, can be just as vulnerable to police violence as any other young black man in this country,” she wrote. “Players such as Colin Kaepernick, Anquan Boldin, Josh McCown, and others have taken on a vital role in the movement for justice in policing, and they should be encouraged to speak out.”
In the letter, Flanagan also commended the NFL for its efforts to stem domestic violence—a move that was largely the result of prodding from a different organization, the Black Women’s Roundtable, led by Melanie Campbell.
Flanagan urged Goodell “to bring the same morale outrage to the unjust use of deadly force by police, which so closely impacts your players personally and the communities in which so many of them grew up. Now is the time for the NFL to step up.”