Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso, Texas who is challenging Republican senator Ted Cruz for his seat in the November midterms, defended NFL players’ right to protest at a campaign town hall meeting on Tuesday.
“My short answer is: No, I don’t think it’s disrespectful,” O’Rourke replied, according to Fox News, when asked if he thought national anthem protests were disrespectful. “Reasonable people can disagree on this issue. Let’s begin there. And it makes them no less American to come down on a different conclusion on this issue, right?”
O’Rourke’s remarks, which were captured in a video that has since gone viral, reportedly drew applause. He then likened the demonstrations to peaceful protests during the Civil Rights Movement, which were born out of the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, church bombing that killed four young black girls, as well as the mob violence faced by the Freedom Riders who stood up against segregation laws.
“Peaceful, nonviolent protests, including taking a knee at a football game to point out that black men, unarmed, black teenagers, unarmed, and black children, unarmed, are being killed at a frightening level right now, including by members of law enforcement, without accountability, and without justice,” O’Rourke said. “And so nonviolently, peacefully, while the eyes of this country are watching these games, they take a knee to bring our attention and our focus to this problem to ensure that we fix it. That is why they are doing it. And I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights, anytime, anywhere, in any place.”
According to reports, O’Rourke currently trails Cruz by just 4 percentage points, putting Texas Democrats in position to unseat the junior Republican senator and flip a state that has not voted blue in a major statewide contest in almost thirty years.