Civil Rights

North Smithfield Town Council passes resolution against Nike products and Colin Kaepernick

In all, twenty people stepped up to the podium during Monday night’s North Smithfield Town Council meeting to speak against a resolution requesting that “the School Department as well as other departments of the Town refrain from purchasing products from the ‘Nike‘ sporting goods and clothing company.” Only one person spoke in favor of the resolution. But the Town Council,

Published on September 17, 2018
By Steve Ahlquist

In all, twenty people stepped up to the podium during Monday night’s North Smithfield Town Council meeting to speak against a resolution requesting that “the School Department as well as other departments of the Town refrain from purchasing products from the ‘Nike‘ sporting goods and clothing company.” Only one person spoke in favor of the resolution.

But the Town Council, led by Council President John Beauregard, passed the resolution anyway, 3-2. Council Vice President Paul Zwolenski and Council Member Claire O’Hara voted with Beauregard; Council Members Thomas McGee and Terri Bartomioli voted against the resolution.

The Rhode Island ACLU, which had earlier in the day urged the Town Council to reject the resolution, wrote, “The Town Council’s passage of this inflammatory resolution over the objections of the many residents who came out to oppose it is shameful. By punishing the right to peacefully protest and refusing to recognize the racial injustice prompting that protest, the resolution shows a disdain for both freedom and equality. Rhode Island is better than this.”

The resolution, as conceived by Beauregard, a retired Rhode Island State Police Officer with 25 years on the force, is a symbolic rebuke of Nike and Colin Kaepernick. The resolution, which was not released to the public until shortly before the meeting began, can be read here:

Here is all the video from the Town Council meeting that dealt with the Nike / Colin Kaepernick resolution. If I misspelled a name, please let me know. In a few places I could not catch the name, so please let me know that as well.

First up, Town Council President John Beauregard explains the rules of the meeting. Though he told the crowd he would keep everyone to only two minutes of speaking time, he allowed everyone time to say what they needed to say.

North Smithfield resident John Blakeslee represented both himself and the Rhode Island ACLU. Blakeslee noted the words of the National Black Police Association Chair Sonia Pruitt, who wrote, that Colin Kaepernick’s stance “is in direct alignment with what law enforcement stands for.”

Paul Jones, of the North Smithfield School Committee said that the positive impact he and other elected officials have had on the town “has to do with the messages we send through the votes that we take. I believe [that] in our actions, we, as a government, have been reasonable, rational and forward thinking, for the most part. That is why this resolution has disappointed me so.”

Tomas Gruczka called the resolution, “regrettable.”

“It comes down to this,” said former Town Council Member Melissa Flaherty. “Colin Kaepernick is using his First Amendment right to free speech to bring attention to the injustices faced by people of color. It’s that simple.”

Can you help Uprise RI?

Funding for our reporting relies on the generosity of readers like you. Our independence allows us to write stories that hold RI state and local government officials accountable. All of our stories are free and available to everyone. But your support is essential to keeping Steve on the beat, covering the costs of reporting our stories. If you are able to, please support us. Every contribution, big or small is so valuable. You provide the motivation and financial support to keep doing what we do. Thank you.

“This resolution is not who we are in this town,” said John Flaherty. “We’re better than this. This is an embarrassment.”

“I’m here today to express solidarity with the other North Smithfield residents who oppose this resolution,” said Sarah Reinstein. “I think this resolution is racist at its very core. And it sends a really clear message to our town and beyond that North Smithfield values the image of law enforcement over the legacy of racial inequality that exists in our nation today. And second, I think this resolution is a waste of time and resources.”

“I don’t believe there is any rationale that would justify this resolution,” said Michael Clifford. “The big picture here [is that] some elected officials seem to believe that the public treasuries of municipalities is a private treasure trove that they can dip into and make purchases from companies when and if they are in agreement with their own ideologies and on the flip side, punish companies that don’t share and promote those same ideologies by withholding purchases of goods and services.”

“I’d like to take a few minutes of your time to defend Nike and their choice of Colin Kaepernick  as a spokesperson, but more importantly, as a role model for freedom of speech,” said Mary Callahan Cimini. “I would like to ask each and every member of the council, if that is how we want our children to remember us. The Town that felt the need to punish Nike and to disrespect a person of color for kneeling for what he believes in…”

Self-described “old white guy” Stephen Hoyle Jr joined the Marines in 1966. “I think that guy [Kaepernick] has done braver and more self-sacrificing things than I ever assumed I would do or have done. He’s somebody that we should respect and admire and listen to the points he makes.”

Bryant University student and member of the Bryant Democrats Quentin Law said that at first, he and his fellow students thought the resolution was “fake news.” Law compared Kaepernick to John Carlos, who was stripped of his Olympic medal for his protest in 1968.

“The Nike resolution that you are proposing is based on thinly veiled racist ideology,” said Erin Huntley.

“That’s right!” agreed a woman in the audience, to applause.

“This only became an issue when Colin Kaepernick did something you politically disagree with,” said High School Sophomore Griffin Dec. “That’s fine, but why didn’t you take this stance [against Nike] when, say, the kids in other countries were working in sweatshops everyday…”

“How can you be against racial justice?” asked Wendy Grossman.

“I’m an immigrant… I love this country, that welcomed me with open arms” said Doris de los Santos. “It really pains me, the message we are sending our kids.”

“It’s really hard for white people to talk about racism because we get really defensive,” said Cynthia Roberts. “I’m here as an aspiring white ally to do my role as a white person to dismantle white supremacy culture. And that’s another hard thing for white people to hear. When we think white supremacy we think KKK and hoods. I’m not talking about that. We live in a town that has upwards of 96 percent white people…”

After 16 people in a row, all but one from North Smithfield, spoke out against the resolution, I was feeling good about people and good about America. I even tweeted out:

I should have known better.

The next speaker broke the spell:

“We were excited about moving to North Smithfield. We were excited about the community, the schools and I have to say everybody was very welcoming. I love this community. And you Sir, [pointing to Council President Beauregard] have completely changed that…”

“The larger purpose of this [resolution], based on the analysis of the rhetoric is not necessarily about Nike. It’s not about policing. It’s about sending a message about who can be involved in this Town.”

“I don’t believe it,” said Town Council Member Claire O’Hara, rising and interrupting the speaker. “I am sorry, I cannot sit here. Many of you know me…”

“This is not personal,” said the speaker. “I’m suggesting to you there is power in words…”

“I was disappointed to see this put on the agenda, frankly,” said Art Bassett, member of the School Committee. “Spending time on this tonight is asinine.”

“I don’t just see this as a social justice issue I see it as a Constitutional issue,” said a second high school senior. “I’m very confused. This does not reflect the tolerance and acceptance that I know to be true here in North Smithfield.”

The discussion then turned to the members of the Town Council. “You’re going to take one incident and demean the people in this town and say you can’t live here anymore?” said Town Council Member Claire O’Hara, objecting to those who suggested that North Smithfield wasn’t as welcoming as they believed the town to be. “Then guess what? Maybe you shouldn’t live here, or anywhere else.”

In answer to the woman speaking in video number 20 above who was wearing a “Black Lives Matter” shirt, O’Hara said, “I say, ALL life matters.”

O’Hara also said that the vote would be difficult.

After O’Hara finished, there were annoyed , exasperated comments from the audience, so Council President Beauregard threatened to expel anyone who interrupted or spoke out of turn from the meeting.

“I know Mr Beauregard. He’s and honorable man,” said Council Vice President Paul Zwolenski. “When people signed up he allowed them to speak, more than two minutes. He also allowed people to speak who had not signed up. So i believe he’s a true believer in the First Amendment, freedom of speech – Much to his dteriment.

“This is going to be a very difficult vote.”

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what exactly this resolution is and what it is not,” said Town Council President Beauregard. “This resolution is a request. It’s not an ordinance, or some sort of requirement… There’s no teeth in this resolution.

“This has nothing to do with anyone taking a knee… That is not even what this is about… it’s not my argument.

“I’m also not asking people to burn their Nike wear. i have a lot of Nike wear and I’ll continue to wear it. I don’t have the kind of money to burn all my perfectly good equipment.

“This is not even directed at Colin Kaepernick. He has the right to say whatever he wants… just because I don’t believe in his cause doesn’t mean I don’t believe in his rights.

“Since when is standing up for what you believe in not a council issue? If there is wrong being done to our police officers, why wouldn’t I use my position to attempt to right a wrong? So am i using my position as Council President to bring an issue to the forefront? Absolutely I am. I admit that wholeheartedly.

“Colin Kaepernick has made numerous derogatory comments about the police. He has referred to the police as pigs by wearing socks with pigs dressed as police officers when he knew the press would pick up on this. He compared modern police to runaway slave patrols of the 17 and 1800’s. He has sent financial aid to an individual who murdered a police officer and now lives in exile in Cuba.”

Kaepernick “is an individual who clearly has disdain for the police.” His claim that he has “sacrificed everything” is an insult to police officers killed in they line of duty, said Beauregard. “Mr Kaepernick did not sacrifice anything. He lives a millionaire’s lifestyle.”

“The people who belong on the posters, the people who [should be] the face of Nike, are the fallen police officers. Just last night a police officer was killed in the line of duty… He’s the hero. Colin Kaepernick’s not the hero…”

There were gasps and groans when the motion passed. No applause. The meeting continued, but most people left.

Paul Zwolenski

Claire O’Hara

Thomas McGee

Terri Bartomioli

UpriseRI is entirely supported by donations and advertising. Every little bit helps:

Become a Patron!

More Civil Rights Coverage