A Pennsylvania cheerleader has been kneeling during the national anthem at her high school games to protest the unfair treatment of people in the United States.
"I don't expect other people to feel that way. It was strictly for my belief … not for others," 15-year-old Ajani Powell, a sophomore at Northeastern High School in Manchester, told the York Daily Record. "If it does draw attention, I will use that platform as my way to say what I ... believe in."
Powell knelt during the national anthem at every football game this school year, but it wasn’t until photographer Curt Werner took her picture on Dec. 10 at a basketball game and posted it to Facebook that people took notice.
The photo has been remarked on more than 500 times, with at least 156 responding with the angry emoji. It has been shared more than 500 times.
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Some of the commenters called her disrespectful and said she should be kicked off the cheerleading squad, while others said she should have the freedom to protest.
“Maybe you don't like what she did but she has every single right to do it and every veteran fought for that,” one wrote. “Take your bigoted, close minded opinions out of this. She's always done this and only now is it a problem bc some dumb reporter decided to snap a pic to start problems. Leave her alone and let her do as she pleases.”
“Ignorance at its best. I hope you are pulled from the team young lady,” another commented.
Powell told the York Daily Record that she does not mean anyone disrespect, nor does she want attention. She chose to kneel for all people, regardless of race, who are being treated unjustly.
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"It's 2016 and people are being killed and nothing is happening about that. It's 2016, and people are being wrongly tried and nothing is happening about that," she said.
"I do love America. I don't love everything about it," Powell said. "I believe in what our soldiers fight for. Without them, I wouldn't be able to do what I do now. I acknowledge that."
Powell said that at school, the comments she has received have been supportive.
Northeastern basketball coach Job Eyster did not notice Powell kneeling at the game, but said it is her right to do so.
"I didn't see it, because I was standing at attention, saluting the flag, as a veteran of the military," Eyster, who served in the U.S. Air Force, said.
"She has freedom of speech and it's her right to do that," he said. "Just as it's my right to salute the flag as a veteran. Our rights are protected until we violate someone else's rights."
Powell’s kneeling during the national anthem stems from San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick choosing to do so at games. His silent protests were to show support for people of color who are being oppressed in the United States, and to stand against police brutality.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."