Politics & Government

‘Go back to where you claim home,’ Kansas lawmaker tells protester

This photo of Denasia Lawrence singing the national anthem at a Miami Heat game was used in a profane meme on Facebook. Kansas Rep. Joe Seiwert replied to the meme that Lawrence should “go home” to another country.
This photo of Denasia Lawrence singing the national anthem at a Miami Heat game was used in a profane meme on Facebook. Kansas Rep. Joe Seiwert replied to the meme that Lawrence should “go home” to another country. Associated Press

Kansas state Rep. Joe Seiwert commented on Facebook that an African-American singer who knelt while performing “The Star Spangled Banner” at a Miami Heat game should “go back” to where she claims as home.

Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie, posted that comment and a longer follow-up on an anti-black meme that was originally posted to a pro-Donald Trump Facebook group and then shared by one of Seiwert’s constituents.

Seiwert confirmed the comments were his and said he was exercising his First Amendment right to free speech, as he says the woman in the meme did when she wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and knelt while singing the anthem.

The original meme has since been removed from the Trump-supporting site. However, screenshots show the original post and Seiwert’s reactions to it.

Two black legislators said they found Seiwert’s comments offensive and surprising.

Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, who said she is friends with Seiwert, said the comments were insulting to African-Americans like her who have faced prejudice and profiling. “I’m just literally stunned,” she said.

Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, also expressed a sense of shock.

“I’m genuinely saddened to see such racism rear its ugly head in someone I had respect for,” Haley said. “I, David Haley, as a native Kansan and eighth generation, at least, American, am back where I came from.”

Haley’s family is the subject of the book and television miniseries “Roots,” which traced the Haley lineage back to Kunta Kinte, an African brought to America as a slave before the Revolutionary War.

The photo in the meme is of Denasia Lawrence, a Miami social worker and, according to the Miami Sun-Sentinel, a part-time game-night employee of the Heat professional basketball team. The team has issued a statement saying team officials were unaware that Lawrence planned to protest when they asked her to sing the anthem at Friday’s preseason game with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Lawrence’s protest, the second time a singer has knelt while singing the anthem during the NBA preseason, is a spinoff of a style of protest popularized this summer by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Although many have criticized Kaepernick, his form of protest of police shootings and other racial matters has been adopted by athletes across the NFL and other leagues.

KNEELING WHILE SINGING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM … I’M SO SICK OF THESE ANTI-AMERICAN BLACKS

Meme that Rep. Joe Seiwert commented on

The person who made the meme took a photo of Lawrence from the web and added, in capital letters, “KNEELING WHILE SINGING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM … I’M SO SICK OF THESE ANTI-AMERICAN BLACKS .. (Expletive) BLACK LIVES MATTER.”

Seiwert’s comment, directed at Lawrence, was: “Go back to where you claim home than (sic).”

Another Facebook user then replied: “More like … why don’t you and Joe there, go move to a country that doesn’t allow free speech and protest.”

If they don’t like it here, I believe that their freedom completely allows them to go wherever they believe is more free and non racist if that’s what they believe.

Rep. Joe Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie

To which Seiwert responded: “I am where I claim home and like it, they want to claim it and it is their right to go where ever they like, so if they don’t like it here, I believe that their freedom completely allows them to go wherever they believe is more free and non racist if that’s what they believe.”

Seiwert said he didn’t see the profanity in the meme when he commented and didn’t do anything wrong.

“I have a personal life besides a legislative life,” he said. “Maybe it was inappropriate; I don’t believe so, because I said nothing derogatory. And I believe that (if) people are that upset with the national anthem, they can do whatever they want to on their own time, but when they’re using it on national TV to make a statement, that’s not right.

I said if she (Lawrence) doesn’t like it here, then go where she would like it. What’s wrong with that?

Rep. Joe Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie

“I said if she (Lawrence) doesn’t like it here, then go where she would like it. What’s wrong with that?” he said.

Asked why a person should leave rather than try to change things where they are, Seiwert responded: “Because maybe there’s other people who don’t want their place changed.”

He also said he did not think his comments had anything to do with race.

“It don’t make any difference if they’re black, white or green, it’s the disrespect to our country,” he said. “And why does everybody put the color to it?”

Finney regularly campaigns for criminal justice reform at the Statehouse.

“He seemed like he could be sympathetic to people’s causes when I talk to him,” she said. “He seems like he’s much more open minded … that sounded kind of closed-minded to me.”

She said it’s not helpful to tell someone to go back to someplace, because black and white Americans all came from someplace to get here.

“This is our country just as much as it is anyone else’s,” Finney said. “Some of us, we do experience inequities and discrimination in Kansas and the United States, and we have to be able to speak out on that. And I’m sorry to hear that one of our representatives … isn’t sensitive to that.”

Contributing: Hunter Woodall of Kansas City Star

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas

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