NORTH SMITHFIELD, R.I. (WPRI/AP) — After hearing impassioned testimony on the matter Monday night, the North Smithfield Town Council voted 3-2 to approve a resolution requesting that town departments refrain from buying Nike products.
The resolution, which takes effect immediately, was introduced by Council President John Beauregard in response to the clothing manufacturer’s polarizing new ad campaign featuring former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Beauregard, a former R.I. State Police trooper said the proposal wasn’t about football or Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee during the national anthem, but rather the negative things Kaepernick has allegedly said about law enforcement.
“So far this year, over 100 police officers have been killed in the line of duty,” Beauregard said. “Nike’s use of the slogan ‘believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything’ is an insult to every one of those police officers and every one of their family members.”
Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and social injustice.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island said the town could be held legally and financially liable for violating the First Amendment and earlier on Monday told members of the council: “Just don’t do it.”
Following the vote, ACLU of RI Executive Director Steven Brown released a statement disparaging the council’s approval of the measure.
“The Town Council’s passage of this inflammatory resolution over the objections of the many residents who came out to oppose it is shameful,” Brown wrote. “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”
Many residents who spoke up Monday night raised similar free speech concerns, with some questioning why the resolution was on the agenda in the first place.
“The right for those athletes and those Americans to protest is one we all pledge to defend with our lives if necessary,” former council member Melissa Flaherty said.
“As a member of our school committee, I think often of our students,” Paul Jones said. “I believe a vote for this measure is, intended or not, going to send a message to our students that it is acceptable for government to punish speech.”
The majority of attendees who spoke up were against the proposal but that didn’t include local radio personality John DePetro.
“Soldiers and teachers are role models,” DePetro said. “Overpaid athletes playing the games of children are not role models.”
The resolution allows the council to make the request but carries no punishment for any department that decides to buy Nike products.
“The town is not taking a position about not ordering or purchasing Nike products as a result of this,” Beauregard added. “It’s just that we’re making a simple request and that’s it. That’s all it is. There’s nothing more to it. There’s no teeth in this resolution.”
In the meantime, the mayor of a New Orleans suburb recently rescinded a similar directive based on an attorney’s advice.
Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn, a Republican, had issued a memo saying that Nike products could not be purchased for use at city recreation facilities. It also required the parks and recreation director to approve all athletic purchases by booster clubs using the facilities. The order prompted a protest that included three members of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and hundreds of others.
Mississippi’s public safety chief said over the weekend that state police would no longer buy Nike products, saying that Nike doesn’t support law enforcement and the military. It wasn’t immediately clear how much gear the state police agency buys from Nike, though the department has bought shoes, shirts and tactical training uniforms from the company. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant lauded the decision.
A Nike spokesman said Monday he couldn’t comment on the various governmental actions.