SHABAZZ: A few thoughts on free speech in a sensitive world

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Although you might not believe it listening to the two main contenders for president, America is an awesome place to live. And while there are a lot of great reasons to live here, the greatest thing about America is that we are free to speak our minds.

I bring this up because of recent controversies regarding athletes who chose to protest unjustified police shootings of unarmed black men by either kneeling during the national anthem before sporting events or raising the “black power” fist as Tommie Smith and John Carlos did during their 1968 Olympics medal ceremony.

Whether it’s San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, members of the Indiana Fever or the local student athlete who knelt during the national anthem, all of them showed their displeasure over recent police action shootings involving unarmed black men. Some folks call it disrespectful and say they shouldn’t protest. I call it exercising your rights.

If someone has a problem with something this country is doing, they have every right to peacefully protest. I did not say riot; I said protest.

Remember the tea party rallies back in 2010?

To get mad when someone peacefully protests and exercises their first amendment rights seems a little misguided. And dare I say, almost anti-American? They have the right to speak out, just like you have the right to speak out against them. And for those of you who say a sporting event is not the time and place to protest, I argue that is between the athlete and his or her employer. And I don’t buy the nonsense that American men and women who have fought for this country did it because of the national anthem. They fought for what this country stands for and one of those core principles is the right to protest your government when you think it’s gone off the rails.

Now with that said, while I do think these athletes, just like anyone else, have the right to protest, I think they should also be mindful of exactly what they’re protesting. I have no problem with the protests of what someone thinks is an unjustified police action shooting, but how about we also protest the fact that African-Americans are disproportionately a majority of the murder victims in this country.

Have you seen the local news lately? Here in Indianapolis, blacks are about 27 percent of the population but represent between 70 percent and 80 percent of the murder victims. And my hometown of Chicago has been in a murder free-for-all, and I can assure you the bulk of those murders weren’t done by someone wearing a police officer’s uniform. I think those types of incidents deserve as much attention from the protesting crowd as unjustified police action shootings.

But at the end of the day, we all have the right to speak out and protest what we think is a societal injustice, whether it’s an unjustified police action shooting or high taxes. And you, yes you, have the right to peacefully protest the protestors. And then someone has the right to protest you. And someone has the right to protest them. And so on. And so on.

America is an awesome place.•


Shabazz is an attorney, radio talk show host and political commentator, college professor and stand-up comedian. Send comments on this column to

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