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Since the National Football League’s kneeling controversy started, several police organizations around the country have stated they would not protect individual players or whole teams until all the players stood for the anthem. The Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association – the union for rank-and-file officers with the lead department responsible for security at Levi Stadium, where the 49ers play – threatened to boycott working security at the games. The union rescinded their threat after being appeased by Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor.

The police protest is playing out differently in Miami, where three Dolphins players knelt during the national anthem in their game against, ironically, the Patriots. That was down from the four players who knelt in their season opener against the Seattle Seahawks. Jeffery Bell, president of the International Union of Police Associations’ Local 6020 in Miami, said in a statement that while he respects players’ right to free speech, he believes that “in certain organizations and certain jobs you give up that right of your freedom of speech [temporarily] while you serve that job or while you play in an NFL game.” That’s the rationale Bell gave for asking his officers to stop providing security for players until they stand for the anthem.

Of course, Bell fundamentally misunderstands the First Amendment, and history, for that matter. There is absolutely zero legal precedent for his assertion that NFL players lose their First Amendment rights. This claim from an official who represents sworn law enforcement officers is incredulous on its face.

Unfortunately, Bell did not stop there. He also was quoted saying he could “only imagine the public outcry if a group of police officers refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or if we turned our back for the American flag for the national anthem.” That statement again demonstrates a misunderstanding, but this time of the entire concept of police work.

There is a fundamental difference between an NFL player, whose job is to play a game, and a police officer, whose job is to protect and serve the community. What if an infantry soldier refused to charge the hill because his sergeant yelled at him or because the chow was cold? An officer’s job is to serve and protect the public. To call for a boycott because officers disagree with the political views held by a few members of that public is not only dangerous, it’s wholly unprofessional.

Officers protect and serve skinheads when they march in their “pride” parades. They protect arrested pedophiles, placing their own bodies in harm’s way to ensure an arrestee makes it to the courthouse for justice. And they even protect the distasteful NFL player who kneels during the national anthem. That is professionalism. It’s what the job requires.

An old photo recently made the rounds on social media shows an innocent little boy, dressed with the hood and sheets of the Ku Klux Klan, exploring his reflection in the riot shield of a black state trooper. That boy (or rather, his odious parents) was protected by that very officer and others in the cordon that shielded the KKK from angry citizens. Perhaps Mr. Bell’s counterpart in that local police union should have counseled the officer to kick the child aside?

These sorts of protests by unions and officers are emblematic of the very criticism leveled by those who choose to kneel: inequality and selective enforcement by some departments and among some officers. If police give themselves permission to ignore rules and instructions at will, their selective laxity or selective enforcement is bound to create inequities in the communities they serve. Our country is dedicated to providing all citizens “equal protection” under the law. Every action that weakens that principle pulls us further from our ideals.

Bell is wrong. The vast majority of police are professionals. It’s the same professionalism we saw in July in Dallas, when an officer laid on top of Shetamia Taylor and her son during the rampage. It was the professionalism NYPD officer Dennis Guerra demonstrated by giving his life to save others at the Coney Island fire. And it is the same professionalism we saw end the lives of 72 officers in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, most of whom died running into burning buildings while they were protecting and serving.

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Arthur Rizer is justice policy director at the R Street Institute. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.

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