"You aren't listening."
That's what Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins wrote on a placard he showed to reporters earlier this week. He showed them additional cards, with statistics about police shootings and the racial breakdown of incarcerated men in the United States. He also shared information about his NFL colleagues and the efforts they've made to improve their communities.
He's right, some people aren't listening. But I hope President Trump may eventually hear the message.
That hope may not seem well-founded. The Philadelphia Eagles were set to visit the White House on Tuesday in celebration of their Super Bowl victory in February, and after President Trump was notified that only a handful of players would attend (for reasons many of them articulated shortly after their championship victory), the White House released a statement Monday canceling the Eagles visit. And although no Philadelphia Eagles players kneeled all season or stayed in the locker room during the playing of the National Anthem, Trump insinuated they had.
The players have stressed over and over again reasons why they kneel or hold up a fist during the anthem. This, of course, started in September 2016 with Colin Kaepernick to which then-candidate Trump lashed out and attacked those players.
Last September at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, Trump said NFL players who were kneeling were "sons of bitches" who should be fired. And more recently, after the NFL's unilateral decision to mandate players "stand and respect the flag and anthem" or stay in the locker room, POTUS once again interjected himself. He said about players who kneel, "Maybe they shouldn't be playing ... maybe they shouldn't be in the country." Contrast the way he speaks about NFLers who engage in forms of dissent with how he described white nationalists and neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, who were screaming "Jews will not replace us" -- calling some of them "very fine people," and you have a recipe for disaster.
I've played in the NFL, and I can say to President Trump: These same guys you referred to as SOBs are role models in their communities, and have done great works for years by donating their money, time and resources. And they have backed their protests with actions. They've met with police chiefs and gone on ridealongs with officers to try to get a better understanding of their everyday work and try to help bridge the gap between police and community. They've met with state attorneys general and members of Congress in Washington from both sides of the aisle to lobby for criminal justice reform -- and the list goes on and on.
Despite his troubling rhetoric about race and about members of the NFL, the President has taken heartening recent actions on criminal justice. After tasking son-in-law Jared Kushner with tackling criminal justice reform and meeting with Kim Kardashian, Trump commuted the sentence of Alice Johnson, a 63-year-old great-grandmother who was serving life in prison for a first offense nonviolent drug conviction. There are many Americans with cases similar to Johnson's and we as a nation must devise a strategy to help them as well.
Make no mistake, I believe Trump is who he is. But what if the President is really serious about criminal justice reform? While Trump vehemently disagrees with the tactics of players who are trying to raise awareness of pertinent issues affecting our country, what if he could put aside those disagreements and join forces with them? What if he understood that these men have been out on the front lines of criminal justice reform, and instead of portraying them as eternal enemies he could work with them as invaluable allies?
The United States of America is home to roughly 328 million people -- or 5% of the world's population. As one of the more disturbing statistics shows, although the United States has less than 5% of the globe's population, America holds close to 25% of the world's inmates, a disproportionate number of whom are black. Nearly half of the world's prisoners are concentrated in three countries: China, Russia and the United States.
For 50 years between 1930 and 1980, the United States maintained 100 prisoners per 100,000. Policies implemented during Richard Nixon's administration as a way to stop what former Nixon adviser John Ehrlichman called "enemies" -- the anti-war left and black people -- laid some of the groundwork for Ronald Reagan's "War on Drugs." Reagan was elected in 1980 and served two terms, during which the US prison population nearly doubled. Today that figure is 700 prisoners per 100,000.
In addition, the United States spends approximately $80 billion annually on corrections. According to the US Department of Education, state and local spending for jails and prisons rose by 324% between 1979 and 2012. During that same period, spending for elementary and secondary education grew only 107%. All these statistics previously mentioned are alarming and should be cause for concern for all in this country.
If Trump recognized how men like Malcolm Jenkins and so many others could be partners in a potentially HUGE bipartisan win for him, reforming our criminal justice system could transform our country for the better.
I believe this is a possibility because I joined Jenkins, former player Anquan Boldin and Johnson Bademosi of the Houston Texans to meet with dozens of members of Congress in spring 2017, including some of the most prominent members of the GOP. We were there to get a sense of the atmosphere around criminal justice reform among our elected officials in Washington, and to lobby for reforms. We told them our thoughts on why reforms were so important for America, and we wanted to hear their thoughts.
To my pleasant surprise, the consensus we received from the members we met with was that criminal justice reform is one of the most bipartisan issues in Washington. We wanted to know how high on the priority list was it for each official we spoke with. We asked what strategies would they be implementing and how we could use our platforms to help bring that to fruition. We established a dialogue and relationships with them that continue today.
The President loves to win. Criminal justice reform is good both morally and fiscally. If Trump would extend an olive branch to these players instead of attacking them for exercising their first amendment rights, he would be working with men who are proven winners. That accomplishment would be Trump's lasting legacy. And if that happens, everybody wins.
As Martin Luther King Jr. lamented, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
Some will say I'm naive, but I can dream, can't I? Until we fix our broken criminal justice system many human beings will languish in jails and prisons as a form of punishment, as opposed to what the correctional system's function is supposed to be -- a system of rehabilitation.