CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Protests carried out by NFL players have been under the microscope all season long, and at Thursday night's game, Bishop Kevin Long was hoping for a new level of fan engagement outside of Bank of America Stadium.
Long is part of a group that planned a "kneel-in" ahead of the game.
"The community base is ecumenical. It's non-denominational," Long explained.
Spirited conversations over patriotism have unfolded this season, but the group says Thursday's demonstration at BofA has a single focus.
"To shed a light on police brutality and the issues of aggressive policing," Long said.
Some believe the protests show disrespect.
"I'm an American and I'm going to stand and put my hand on my heart because all these people died for that flag," said Travis Curtis, a Charlotte resident who took note of the protest Thursday. "I'm not going to kneel and disrespect the flag."
Curtis stood alone with his hand over his heart while dozens of people knelt outside of Bank of America Stadium Thursday.
Long insists the protest isn't about the flag.
"This protest is not and never has been about the flag," Long said. "It is not and never has been about military. It is never and has not been about police. It has been about atrocities that have been committed under the banner of the flag."
The protest remained peaceful and non-violent Thursday evening. Police officers were nearby to keep the peace.
"We've got officers out here that will defend their right to protest," said Captain Dave Johnson with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. "Everybody may not agree with what they have to say, but we'll all defend their right to say it."
The match-up between the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles was the group's first stop in an effort that will be carried out at other NFL games this weekend.
Herb White, the editor of the Charlotte Post, says the initial narrative is overshadowed by a president who has referred to mothers of NFL players in offensive terms, and by those questioning the patriotism of individuals on the sidelines.
"This is the continuation of a movement that addresses inequality and police brutality in black and brown communities," White said. "Anytime black folks raise a stink about their conditions, it's seen as ingratitude - 'How dare you.'"
Although patriotism will likely be questioned, the organizer planned to the keep the attention on social justice.
"Over the course of years, there's been a disproportionate atrocities that have been perpetuated against black and brown people here in the US," Long said.