It will be up to Ervin’s commander to decide whether the sailor faces any punishment, U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. Clint Ramsden told The Washington Post on Wednesday.
Ervin enlisted in the Navy in July 2009 but has been a reservist since 2010. She is assigned to the Navy Operations Support Center at North Island, Calif., as an intelligence specialist, but was in Hawaii for about two weeks for a training exercise, Ramsden said.
To his knowledge, Ramsden said, it was the first time a sailor in the Pacific Fleet had refused to salute during the national anthem.
The Navy protocol handbook states that a sailor in uniform must salute when the national anthem is played, from the first note of the anthem until the last. Sailors are supposed to face the flag or, if the flag is not displayed, the source of the music.
Ramsden would not comment on what kind of disciplinary action Ervin could face, if any.
“It’s currently under review, and once that review is complete, then we’ll have a clear picture of what occurred and if any punitive action will occur,” he said.
Calls to the Operations Support Center were not answered Wednesday, and Ervin did not respond to an interview request sent to her Facebook account.
But a week earlier, she wrote about her actions on Facebook and said they were rooted in ideological reasons, according to Military.com. (On Wednesday, the post was not publicly visible.)
“I have been proudly serving in the US Navy Reserve Force since November 2008,” she wrote, according to Military.com. “I have pledged to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and to spread freedom and democracy around the world. I will never waver from that pledge. I feel like a hypocrite singing about the ‘land of the free’ when I know that only applies to some Americans. I will gladly stand again, when ALL AMERICANS are afforded the same freedom.”
Her protest echoed that of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has repeatedly knelt down during the national anthem to call attention to what he sees as widespread discrimination against people of color in the United States.
Since Kaepernick began his silent protests, other high school, college and professional athletes have followed suit, pulling more into the vortex of debate over appropriate free speech and the state of race relations in America.
Ervin’s protest is at least the second time in the past month that an American sailor has protested the national anthem. In late August, an unidentified sailor filmed herself refusing to stand for “morning colors,” according to Military.com.
The Navy confirmed to Military.com that it was aware of the August video and that the sailor was expected to be allowed to continue training at her assigned Naval Air Technical Training Center in Pensacola, Fla.
Late Tuesday, Ervin shared a 1966 photo on Facebook that showed Martin Luther King Jr. falling after someone in an angry mob hit him with a rock in Chicago.
“They’re always telling us to be peaceful like Dr. King,” read the text that accompanied the photo. “This is how they treated Dr. King, when he marched ‘peacefully’ advocating ‘non-violence.’ ”
Ervin also shared a Change.org petition titled “Keep Black Soldiers Out of Jail For Choosing not to Stand for National Anthem.”
The petition, started by a Raeford, N.C., man named Brandon Akins, detailed Ervin’s situation and stated that she was finishing up a master’s degree in medical science in the hope of becoming a doctor.
“She has served her family, friends, fellow midshipmen and the nation with class and dignity,” Akins wrote. “A couple of days ago, she made the clear choice in full uniform to not stand while the Star Spangled Banner played.”
The consequences of Ervin’s actions were immediate, Akins said in the petition:
After this, her security clearance was taken away, [she was] talked to like trash from military personnel and civilians, received threats from many people, and is in danger of going to jail. Now, we are standing with her during this time [and] needs your help if possible to not allow her go to jail and receiving a dishonorable discharge. Intervene, if you will.The Navy has also taken her equipment that she needs to do the job that she has done for all of this time.[Ervin] admits she loves her country and will fight for it at all cost. However, she states that “her patriotism should not be defined by her refusing to stand for the national anthem as the land she is fighting for is discriminatory towards people that look like her.” She is a black woman who has to constantly [witness] what minorities deal with while she is in uniform.We fully understand that military law is different than civil law. But this is no reason to possibly have her jailed, dishonorably discharged, security clearance revoked and her uniform taken away so she can not serve her country.We are doing everything in our power to help this young lady [and] will gladly appreciate an immediate intervention of what stands against her currently. Do not allow her to be punished by jail time and a dishonorable discharge for what she truly believes in.
Akins could not be reached for comment.
The petition is directed toward 27 people or agencies, including the Department of Defense, President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey and a handful of media outlets. As of Thursday morning, the petition had 352 supporters.
The response to Ervin’s actions has been polarized. On Tuesday, a Facebook group called “Hold Janaye Ervin Accountable” popped up, saying that Ervin brought “a great discredit to the U.S. Navy and the United States” when she “willingly failed to rendered required customs and courtesies” to the flag.
Dozens of people have left irate comments on Ervin’s own Facebook page, some laced with obscenities and the n-word.
“Dishonorable discharge is all you deserve now from this country,” one person wrote before calling her a string of profane words and going on to disparage her as “another uneducated black person.”
Others supported Ervin or were more measured in their criticism.
“Freedom of speech is every American’s right. That includes protesting,” another person commented. “However, I took that oath twice and wore the same rank as Ms. Ervin. I feel it is her ‘duty’ to stand during the anthem, only because of the oath she swore. If she can no longer honor that, she should ask for a hardship discharge.”
The broader controversy surfaced Wednesday on an Army base in Virginia, where President Obama was asked by a member of the military about those who “have been choosing to take a knee during the national anthem, a time which I believe should be reserved to respect our service members.”
“I believe that us honoring our flag and our anthem is part of what binds us together as a nation,” Obama said during the town hall at Fort Lee, noting that he recognized “what it means to the men and women who are fighting on our behalf. … But I also always try to remind folks that part of what makes this country special is that we respect people’s rights to have a different opinion. And to make different decisions about how they want to express their concerns.”
Addressing an audience filled with military personnel and veterans, the president urged “everybody to listen to each other,” saying: “I want Mr. Kaepernick and others who are on a knee, I want them to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat, and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing. But I also want people to think about the pain he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot.”
He added: “I do hope that anybody who’s trying to express any political view of any sort understands that they do so under the blanket of the protection of our men and women in uniform, and that that appreciation of that sacrifice is never lost.”