On Sept. 27, photographer Brendan Smialowski snapped this photo while traveling with President Donald Trump’s motorcade in Indianapolis.
The president was in town to deliver a speech on tax reform.
On the right side of the frame is Marvin L. Boatright, a 60-year-old U.S. Army veteran.
In the photo, he’s wearing an American Legion cap and has the U.S. flag folded in his arms. Notably, he is also kneeling.
Smialowski wasn’t the only photographer who captured the moment. Other photographers and news outlets picked it up as well. Given the recent attention on the NFL’s #TakeAKnee protests against racism and police brutality, the photo quickly went viral.
Last week at a rally in Alabama, Trump slammed NFL players for protesting by kneeling during the national anthem, suggesting any athlete who does so is a “son of a bitch” who deserves to be fired.
Boatright — who served in the Army’s 1st Cavalry from 1974 to 1976 and whose father served in World War II — clearly disagrees with the president.
“We love this country,” Boatright told HuffPost after the photos spread far and wide. “We love this flag. But we also love life and liberty for all humanity.”
He explained to the outlet (emphasis added):
“As a veteran, and as an African-American, we have already and we continue to serve for God and country. But you can have a love of God and country and still be against social injustice. You don’t have to separate one from the other. … For the commander-in-chief to call our citizens ‘sons of a bitches’ was totally wrong and beneath the dignity of the office that he holds.”
The NFL protests, as Boatright alluded to, have been meant to raise awareness about systemic racism in our law enforcement and criminal justice systems, particularly when it comes to police brutality.
The protests aren’t about the flag or the anthem.
Other photos of vets kneeling have made the similar, striking point: Kneeling during the national anthem is not unpatriotic.
Like this pic of 97-year-old John Middlemas, who served in the Navy for 21 years — during World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War — BuzzFeed News reported.
“Those kids have every right to protest,” Middlemas said of the NFL players.
A photo of Middlemas, shared on Twitter by his grandson, Brennan Gilmore, was retweeted more than 168,000 times to date.
As Gilmore told BuzzFeed:
“Members of the military like my grandfather who risked their lives or fought for this country did not do so because of symbols like the flag or the anthem, but because of the ideas those symbols represent — like freedom of speech, and equality, and justice for all.”
TV producer and veteran Norman Lear, 95, also shared photos of himself on Twitter: “I [take a knee], once more, in solidarity with my brothers [and] sisters still fighting [for] equality [and] justice,” he wrote.
Through all of the noise, these protests really are about ensuring equality for all Americans, Boatright expressed — and we have a long way to go.
But Boatright, a grandfather of four, is hopeful for what the future holds.
“I would want my children to be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin; you cannot ask for anything greater,” he noted to HuffPost. “We’ve not reached it yet, but I think we’ll get there.”