When you set out to make a political statement — or any statement that may be considered divisive — it’s a good idea to think about who you represent first. That’s the lesson being hammered home to a Rhode Island town council after said council told its city departments to stop buying Nike products as part of an indefinite boycott.
The resolution was passed by the North Smithfield Town Council by a one-vote margin last week. Council President John Beauregard said the matter was non binding, but that didn’t stop the trouble Beauregard got his town in with the move, which, according to Beauregard, was made specifically to protest Nike’s use of Colin Kaepernick in an advertising campaign.
A very similar measure made by the mayor of a New Orleans suburb was recently rescinded when the authorities realized the problems they would create for themselves after the fact with this kind of divisive move. In that case, Mayor Ben Zahn issued a memo requiring all city facilities, parks, and recreation teams to refrain from purchasing Nike products. That decision met with widespread public outcry, including being loudly denounced by several members of the beloved New Orleans Saints NFL team.
Despite the quick reversal from the town near New Orleans, North Smithfield, Rhode Island seems to want to stick to their guns, even as the ACLU put them on blast, informing the town in a public statement that the council could be held legally and financially liable for violating the First Amendment. Here, in part, is the ACLU’s statement:
“By attacking the right to peacefully protest and refusing to recognize the racial injustice prompting it, the resolution shows a disdain for both freedom and equality… Rhode Island is better than this.”
This statement clearly and concisely calls North Smithfield out for ignoring racial injustice and “disdaining freedom,” accusations the town council has yet to refute. However, if pressure continues to mount, Beauregard and his council will likely be faced with two decisions. Either they will have to create a message that refutes those accusations and proclaims their reasoning, or they, like Mayor Ben Zahn, will have to publicly eat some proverbial crow.
At this point, Beauregard says the whole crux of the issue, for him, is that he believes Kaepernick is being disrespectful toward police, and that he will not support that.
Clearly, this debate is far from over, and standoffs like this are starting to happen in small towns across the country. Each time, though, these towns are bringing themselves into a massive and contentious national news story. If they make that call, they need to be prepared for the response.