The racially motivated protests and riots taking place in the wake of the horrific murder of George Floyd have elicited an unusual response. Many people, including prominent politicians and law enforcement officials, have “taken the knee” in acquiescence to or in complete agreement with the claims of the protesters that America, and in particular the police are racist.
One example was Detroit Police Chief Todd Bettison who took a knee when confronted by a protest last Monday. Bettison performed the ritual at the insistence of “angry protesters.” Bettison did so despite the gesture being in contravention of department protocols, for what he called “tactical reasons” since a kneeling policeman is less ready to perform any duty that might suddenly arise. Bettison did so because he “didn’t want any violence.” The gesture appeared quite ironic since Bettison, who is black, was essentially kneeling before the protesters, many of whom were white.
DPD Deputy Chief Todd Bettison just kneeled with protesters. They wanted DPD to kneel and they would leave. We shall see what happens. pic.twitter.com/kb38g3hrbS
— Branden Hunter (@JustCallmeBHunt) June 1, 2020
This scene was repeated in Lowell, Massachusetts when a crowd chanted for the police chief to take a knee. He respectfully declined and was invited to pray with them which he accepted. The chant renewed and the chief walked away. When a prayer was invoked, the chief joined in saying ‘amen.’
Last Sunday, Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo attended a rally at which she did not heed calls by protesters to take a knee. The rally became unruly and the crowd refused to allow her to speak. Two days later, she took a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance at City Council meeting but her action was rejected as “an encore performance.”
The ritual has caught on and people from around the world are now following suit. But the most blatant use of the symbolic act for the purpose of political pandering came on Monday when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi led House and Senate Democrats in a group kneel at the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall.
Though the murder of George Floyd is universally condemned, not everyone who supports the fight against racism agrees with taking a knee. Lily Mei, the first Asian-American and the first woman mayor of Fremont California, was addressing a protest on Tuesday when the crowd called for her to take the knee.
“Taking a knee is something that I’m not going to be doing,” she told the crowd.
She explained her decision in a Facebook post which began by praising the protesters and expressing support for making significant changes.
“I have been asked why I will not kneel at events like the one from earlier today,” Mei wrote. “Because of my faith, I will never kneel to anyone but God. You will see me kneel in church, but you will not ever see me kneel at any other event except in prayer.”
This statement of faith was also expressed by Georgia State Trooper O’Neal Saddler was allegedly asked to kneel during a demonstration in Hartwell.
“If I didn’t have any respect, I wouldn’t [be here],” Saddler explained. “I was supposed to be out of town this weekend with my wife. I took off today, this weekend, but I’m out here to make sure y’all are safe.”
He added, “Don’t go there with respect, OK? I have much respect, but I only kneel for one person.”
Someone in the crowd replied: “And that’s God,” which the trooper confirmed: “God.”
This is Georgia State Trooper O’Neal Saddler.
He was asked to kneel today, and this was his response.
God Bless him! pic.twitter.com/DZOGg6qnFn
— Ryan Fournier (@RyanAFournier) June 7, 2020
A video made in jest illustrates the absurd extreme to which this trend could theoretically be taken. In the video, a man whose face remains unseen says he works for Black Lives Matter (BLM) and has been told by its “CEO” to get a white woman to kneel and apologize for her white privilege. The woman is seen complying with the request.
The video is a clip from a larger two-hour video posted by a user named Smooth Sanchez on June 1. Smooth Sanchez posted on Instagram that he is not associated with BLM and described the video as “satire.”
The Biblical basis for this no-kneeling stance was explained in a Facebook post by Rabbi Michoel Green from the Chabad organization in Westborough, Massachusetts. The rabbi cited a verse in the Book of Esther.
“I will not kneel before any movement, idea, or person, however virtuous or important,” Rabbi Green wrote on Facebook. “I won’t kneel as an act of deference or even as a statement of protest (like before an anthem of some nation whose policies I might criticize).”
“ I don’t care if my refusal to kneel enrages you, nor am I afraid of provoking your wrath,” Rabbi Green wrote, citing another verse.
“It makes no difference to me how powerful or menacing you are,” Rabbi Green wrote. “I kneel only before God.”
Rabbi Yosef Berger, the rabbi of King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion, explained that this form of bowing, even though it is just on one knee, is explicitly forbidden by Jewish law.
“As seen in the Book of Esther, we are forbidden from bowing,” Rabbi Berger told Breaking Israel News. “If it is as a sign of respect between two people then it would be permitted. A Jew can agree or commiserate but we are only permitted to submit to the Torah, God’s expressed will.”
“But what we have here is a demand to submit to a belief or an entire set of beliefs,” Rabbi Berger said. “Some of the beliefs may be consistent with Torah, maybe even required by the Torah, but taking a knee in submission is a form of slavery in which you relinquish your free will to another person. And that is forbidden.”
In response to the situation, Rabbi Jeremy Gimpel, co-founder of the Land of Israel Network, quoted former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
“Jews Do Not Kneel but to God,” Rabbi Gimpel stated. “Even when we bow in prayer, it is only for a moment since man is created in the image of God. Forcing a man to bow desecrates the image of God.”
“Taking a knee” first appeared as a protest against racial inequality in the NFL preseason games of 2016 when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat and later knelt during the national anthem protesting alleged racism in America. Throughout the following seasons, members of various NFL and other sports teams engaged in similar silent protests. The NFL released a national anthem policy in May 2018, stating that players and team personnel were required to stand during the national anthem. Those who chose not to stand were required to remain in the locker room. The players’ association filed a grievance and the policy change has been put on hold.
It was later revealed in a Clemson University research paper that Russian internet bots on social media played a role in amplifying the controversy online.