They took a stand by deciding not to stand.

Two members of the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education declined to rise for the Pledge of Allegiance to start Thursday evening’s meeting, bringing local attention to a national debate over the nature of protests before the U.S. flag.

Craig Foster and Oscar de la Torre chose to kneel for the duration of the pledge, their heads and shoulders sticking out above the dais at SMMUSD headquarters as their counterparts faced the adjacent American flag.

Foster and de la Torre did not comment on their protest immediately following the pledge, but both board members issued statements to the Daily Press later in the evening.

“As an elected member of the school board I am sworn to uphold the Constitution, and I decided to stand in solidarity with all the Americans who have fought to ensure that our constitutional rights are protected,” de la Torre’s statement reads.

“Liberty and justice for all cannot materialize as long as people of color are being deprived of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness unjustly.

“Those with power in our society must practice reflective accountability to end the institutionalized racism that is leading to achievement gaps, police murder and mass incarceration.”

The SMMUSD board meeting was held less than a week after Terence Crutcher was shot and killed by Tulsa police in an incident that was captured on aerial video footage. Protesters have also taken to the streets in Charlotte in the days since Keith Scott was shot and killed by police in that North Carolina city, with authorities and family members offering clashing perspectives on many of the details.

“I am joining a spreading national all for attention to the deaths of young black men at the hands of police,” Foster’s statement reads, “and, more broadly, a call to examine the meaning of ‘with liberty and justice for all’ and how we can better meet that goal today.”

The act of kneeling before the U.S. flag came to the fore when San Francisco 49ers football player Colin Kaepernick began spotlighting what he views as racial injustices by refusing to stand during the national anthem at games. His actions have sparked widespread dialogue about the police shootings of black citizens as well as about general expressions of dissent.

The protest by Foster and de la Torre came at an SMMUSD meeting during which the board studied a potential plan to close the achievement gaps that have persisted between poor and minority students and their peers.

“Our nation is wrestling with issues of inequity and race,” interim co-superintendent Sylvia Rousseau said, “and education holds a great deal of the answer. If we can assume our responsibilities in a more productive way, we’re contributing to a better world for our future and our children.”

The school board’s vision statement refers to SMMUSD as a “community that values the contributions of all its members and strives to promote social justice.”

jeff@smdp.com

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