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Take a knee: At the Super Bowl, a conference on police violence

Two-day event will end with a rally outside of the stadium

MINNEAPOLIS – Using the spotlight on the Super Bowl to illuminate the problem of police violence, a group called Take a Knee Nation will focus its efforts on changing the criminal justice system during a two-day conference scheduled to start Saturday.

Organizers have invited social-justice activists from across the nation to join them in discussing systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and their desire for sweeping reforms of the criminal justice system. Those who have taken a knee in protest and the families of victims of police violence will have prominent roles at the conference. There will be panel discussions, workshops and question-and-answer sessions. The event will end with a rally Sunday outside U.S. Bank Stadium, the site of Super Bowl.

Lead organizer Mel Reeves is eager to get started.

“We’re having folks come together so that they can see they’re not alone in this fight,” Reeves said. “It’s also about helping people to deepen their understanding of the issues surrounding police violence, their right to protest and racism. We’ve got to keep talking about how we can work together to continue this fight.”

Inspired by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose football career has been derailed because of his decision to protest racial inequality, organizers intend to emphasize the need for continued protest. By first sitting and then kneeling during the national anthem throughout the 2016 regular season, Kaepernick ignited nationwide protests and became the face of a new civil rights movement. After Kaepernick was repeatedly passed over for jobs by far less accomplished passers this season, he became a cultural icon.

Reeves and others developed the idea for the conference after watching the movement spread among young people.

“Back in September, I talked to other human rights activists, people who are on the frontlines of the fight, and we saw an opportunity,” Reeves said. “Just noticing all these young people who were taking a knee, these high schoolers and college students, and reading the stories of why they were doing it. What struck me about it was that people were criticizing them and accusing them of just being faddish.

“They said they were just doing it because it was popular and they wanted attention. But when you read their stories, when you looked deeper, they gave really well-thought-out explanations of why they were taking a knee. They were very well aware of the inequities in our society, the problems of police violence and the need to try to do something to make changes. It motivated me to do something.”

Over the years, there have been several high-profile police shootings in Minneapolis, including the 2016 killing of Philando Castile, whose girlfriend livestreamed the aftermath of the encounter. Seated in the back seat, the girlfriend’s then-4-year-old daughter witnessed Castile’s death. Last year, the police officer who shot Castile was acquitted.

“Somebody recently asked me, ‘Well, when will you stop? When you stop protesting?’ That was a really stupid question,” Reeves said. “You know when we’ll stop? When police violence ends.”

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.