Kaepernick memorializes Sam DuBose in GQ cover shoot

Every item of clothing Colin Kaepernick wears in his GQ cover story makes a statement -- one that's political rather than merely sartorial.

He stands in a sea of Harlem residents wearing a dashiki; he jumps rope with "I KNOW MY RIGHTS" lettered across his black muscle tank; he sports a turtleneck-and-afro combo that evokes fellow black activist Angela Davis.

He wears Samuel Dubose's name on his navel.

DuBose, who was shot to death by University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing during a traffic stop July 19, 2015, joins Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling and 17 other names on a T-shirt list of black Americans who have died during attempted arrests or in police custody.

RELATED: DuBose family may never get apology from Tensing

Many of the names are recognizable to the average news consumer, but many others are not, their deaths having failed to attract the same level of media attention.

 

 

"I made this custom tee for @kaepernick7 for his @gq shoot," designer Kerby Jean-Raymond wrote of the shirt on Instagram. "The sad part is how hard it was to try to pick and fit the names on the shirt. It was too many to fill up both sides and keep in mind these are just people killed by police since I made the last one in 2015."

Although Kaepernick's decision to kneel during the national anthem as a member of the San Francisco 49ers has been refracted through countless perceptual lenses since the day it started, its meaning transformed and reinterpreted by each viewer like a nationwide game of telephone, Sam DuBose is the reason it started.

So are Gray, Sterling, Sandra Bland, Kisha Michael and Alfred Olango.

Before it was an issue of respecting the troops or responding to the president's tweets, it was an issue of calling attention to the number of black Americans who, like DuBose, die in everyday encounters with police.

RELATED: Tensing's attorney says Sam DuBose 'brought that on himself'

Some of these controversies have been borne out in court, though seldom to the satisfaction of advocates such as Kaepernick. DuBose's killer, Ray Tensing, went through two mistrials before Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters dropped the murder and voluntary manslaughter charges against him. Officer Jeronimo Yanez was found not guilty of manslaughter when he shot Philando Castile during a similar traffic stop.

Others, like the death of Kisha Michael, remain opaque. The Los Angeles Times reported Feb. 21 that police still had not released a timeline surrounding officers' decision to shoot Michael and her boyfriend 20 times while they sat in their car.

Americans' opinions on these events run the full gamut from outrage at perceived police brutality to a belief that the victims invited officers' actions with their own.

On WCPO Facebook posts and Feedback Friday segments about the DuBose shooting, viewers weighed in across the board: DuBose was a criminal; DuBose was innocent; DuBose deserved to die; Tensing deserved to rot in prison; police brutality against black Americans is an epidemic; too many people complain too much about police doing their jobs.

 

Cincinnatians to whom WCPO spoke in person were similarly divided about Kaepernick's Citizen of the Year designation.

"It's wonderful that he is being recognized in that manner, in that vein," local activist and Black United Front member Iris Roley said. "What Mr. Kaepernick put on the line for communities of color is phenomenal. It's a hard thing to do. It's not easy going off the ledge like that for people."

Fraternal Order of Police president Sgt. Dan Hils, however, took umbrage both with the choice -- "Absolutely ridiculous." -- and Kaepernick's decision to recognize DuBose with his wardrobe choice.

"I have spoken many times about the shooting. I believe it was an accidental shooting," he said, adding that he believed the views demonstrated by Kaepernick and GQ were out of sync with those held by most Americans. 

Who would be a better choice, in his opinion?

"I would probably snatch up one of the Children's Hospital hospice nurses and I would make one of them the Citizen of the Year," said Hils, whose daughter, Meghan, died at 18. "That's what I would probably do."

Kaepernick himself does not speak in his cover story or in the accompanying video. Instead, his friends -- including director Ava DuVernay and former 49er teammate Eric Reid -- provide the copy, and other iconic black activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. provide the audio.

Just like he did when he first took a knee, Kaepernick spends the story speaking without speaking. His wardrobe makes his message clear:

Whether you like it or not, he won't let DuBose be forgotten.

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