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SIU cheerleader Alaysia Brandy (left) kneels during the national anthem prior to the Salukis's game against Southeast Missouri at Saluki Stadium on Saturday.

CARBONDALE — Almost a year after three black SIUC cheerleaders took a knee during the national anthem in protest of police mistreatment of black Americans, Alaysia Brandy, the only cheerleader of the three who remains on the squad, continued the protest at Saturday’s football home opener against Southeast Missouri State University.

Some spectators remained seated in the stands, like Tiffany Merriweather, of Indianapolis, Indiana, who said: “The flag was not meant for everybody when it was created.”

Others said they didn’t notice the protest, or were unaware of the controversy created last year when the university prohibited “any display of activism” by student-athletes in uniform, after Brandy, Ariahn Hunt and Czarina Tinker began taking a knee. The university later rescinded that rule, under criticism from free-speech groups including the American Civil Liberties Union.

Several fans, including Neil Holley, of Carbondale, said they were offended that Brandy remained kneeling during an announcement made prior to the national anthem honoring veterans and the victims of 9/11.

However, the cheerleaders have repeatedly stated that their protest is for civil rights and against police brutality towards African-Americans, not against veterans, or the U.S as a whole.

Disrespecting veterans is “the complete opposite of what our protest is trying to do,” said Ariahn Hunt, one of the cheerleaders who participated in the protest last year who is no longer on the cheerleading team. “People try to misrepresent and misconstrue our protest, instead of listening to what we say,” Hunt added.

Last season, the cheerleaders’ protest received support from veterans, Hunt said, even some who said they disagreed with the act of kneeling during the national anthem. The cheerleaders also attended the Veterans Honor Flight of Southern Illinois, at which they “talked to the families of veterans and veterans themselves, and thanked them for their service,” Hunt said.

Later, rumors circulated that the cheerleaders had disrespected veterans at the event. Officials within the Athletics Department promised to issue a statement refuting the claims, but never did, according to Hunt.

“Veterans fight for our right to be able to protest,” Hunt said. “I really respect them for doing that.”

Brandy could not be reached for comment Saturday, but explained her reason for protesting in a prior interview with the Southern, saying: “We’re the land of equality and liberty — but we’re not free, we’re not equal. We’re treated as less than, still.”

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