SANTA CLARA — After the San Francisco 49ers became the catalyst for league-wide protests during the national anthem over police violence, they sponsored a forum to bridge divides between police and communities and donated a million dollars toward local solutions.
Now, they’re trying to set the league’s moral compass once again, announcing Thursday that they are partnering with big-city police unions to back gun-control measures, particularly to outlaw the “bump stocks” that significantly boosted the killing power of the shooter in the Las Vegas massacre earlier this month.
“It seems insane to me that a citizen can buy something like that,” team CEO Jed York said at a news conference. “I’m not anti-Second Amendment, this is something that is common sense.”
Thursday, the 49ers and representatives of police unions from San Jose, Oakland, Santa Clara, New York, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Long Beach and Portland signed a pledge that aims to ease nationwide police-community acrimony at the heart of on-field protests that have extended far beyond the field.
The team has also pledged $500,000 for an outreach campaign that includes public-service announcements. Both the 49ers and the police unions plan to solicit participation from other NFL teams and police unions.
But much of the news conference at Levi’s Stadium on Thursday focused on rallying behind proposed federal legislation to ban the bump stocks, and advocating to outlaw armor-piercing bullets and gun silencers the unions contend are a significant threat to law enforcement.
Robert Harris, secretary of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, stressed that his colleagues were not trying to obstruct gun rights.
“We are unwavering in our support of the Second Amendment. We also believe that common sense laws should be put into place to protect law-enforcement officers and the citizens they serve,” Harris said. “If as a country we hope to make any progress, it will take all of us to leave our comfort zones.”
Last fall, then-quarterback Colin Kaepernick launched a movement when he first sat, then kneeled to protest the killings of unarmed black men and women at the hands of law enforcement. His acts gained traction over the season and galvanized much of the league this year after President Trump lashed out at protesting players and suggested they be fired.
York backed his players’ expression from the outset.
“We’re all very interested in progress, and it’s very clear that protesting has brought ample vision, and the opportunity for people to speak loudly,” he said Thursday.
Safety Eric Reid was the first teammate to join Kaepernick in his protest, and has remained outspoken since. He said he was heartened by the initiatives announced Thursday.
“I wouldn’t say that our protest led to this. But it is encouraging that the NFL, and in particular our team, stepped up to the plate,” Reid said. “These are serious issues, people losing their lives. If we have a way to eliminate that and stop that loss of life, we need to do it.”
Still, he said, the anthem protests will continue.
“Until we get something written in stone or the NFL makes us feel they’re going to take over our platform for raising awareness around systemic oppression, then we’re going to continue to kneel. But I think we’re on the right track,” Reid said.
Sgt. Paul Kelly, president of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, said he and his colleagues decided to join the effort announced Thursday after hearing rhetoric but no organized response from the league.
“Police officers across country felt unfairly disparaged by what took place. Some are upset, some are angry, some are offended. But upset feelings do not improve conditions for those of us who respond to calls for service,” Kelly said. “We need to move the ball forward.”
Community advocates like Pastor Jason Reynolds of the Emmanuel Baptist Church in San Jose were encouraged by the gesture made Thursday. But they also warned against losing focus on the core issue behind the original protests.
“I do want to applaud the 49ers. Kaepernick was doing this to raise awareness and we’re seeing that,” Reynolds said. “I’m concerned because technically, gun control was not our issue. I don’t want us to lose the larger narrative. Our concern was for communities of color who have dealt with issues with law enforcement, and how we overcome that.”
Reynolds said accountability for police misconduct is the best way to win the confidence of wary residents. But he noted that has to be coupled with the same residents lauding police successes.
“This ‘us versus them’ mentality, that’s a lose-lose for everyone,” he said. “We need proper justice administrated, and proper applause when something goes right. We have to have both of those things happening. That’s what we need to figure out.”
York said that after meeting with various police and community leaders, the time was now to further capitalize on his team’s out-sized role in arguably the most divisive social issue that has faced the NFL in generations.
“We’ve had the benefit of having more experience with this and having the community conversations for over a year,” York said. “It’s time to take that platform and turn it into real progress.”
Other points of the platform announced Thursday included advocating for increased resources for officers responding to mental-health crises that are becoming increasingly violent.
York acknowledged that the stances he and the organization are taking will meet vocal resistance — some had already appeared on social media Thursday morning, minutes after the news conference — but that the broader cause is too important.
“If we’re going to move forward, we can’t worry about hurt feelings,” he said. “If we take criticism along the way, we are all willing to take criticism if we can make people safer.”
Reid said he hopes the rest of the league follows.
“Shout out to Jed for stepping up to the plate and I’m looking forward to the work they’re doing,” he said. “We just have to continue to push the correct narrative, and that’s (us) trying to make our country better. What the 49ers are doing is a testament to that.”
Staff writer Cam Inman contributed to this report.
POLICE UNIONS PARTNERING WITH SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
* San Jose Police Officers’ Association
* Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association
* Oakland Police Officers’ Association
* Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Santa Clara County
* Los Angeles Police Protective League
* NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association
* Long Beach Police Officers’ Association
* Sacramento Police Officers Association
* Portland Police Association
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