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A Nomad’s Notes: I’ll laugh when the joke is funny

Earlier this week I covered a Veterans Day event where the National Anthem was played. A speaker, just before the anthem started, asked everyone to please stand if they were able to. And then he said, “If any of you kneels during this, I will shoot you.”
I’d say at least 99 percent of the audience gathered laughed at this statement before the National Anthem started to play.
But I didn’t laugh.
Because it’s not funny.
And I shouldn’t have to explain why this isn’t funny, but as soon as I heard this statement uttered, be it a joke or not, I knew I had to take it on.
1: As it has been established since the kneeling campaign first started Sept. 1, 2016, those who kneeled said they were doing so not as a disrespect to veterans, but as a commentary on police brutality in this country. Now I work with law enforcement every day, covering the police beat. It may be harder to get information from some than others, but overall it’s a pleasant experience and they are all fine citizens. But as a general institution, law enforcement has become known for occasions of clear racial bias and racial profiling of minorities. A Vox report published just last week shows there are huge racial disparities when it comes to use of force by U.S. law enforcement. The report highlights two years: 2012 and 2015. Statistics from 2012 show black people represented 31percent of all people killed by police and 39 percent of people killed by police while not attacking, but made up only 13 percent of the country’s population. The report says the data are incomplete because they are based on voluntary reports from police agencies around the country, but it highlights the issue just the same. In 2012, minorities made up about 37.4 percent of the U.S. population but made up 62.7 percent of the unarmed people killed by police.
Earlier this month, an armed black security guard who had pinned a gunman to the ground was killed by a white police officer.
Jemel Roberson of suburban Chicago was working a shift at Manny’s Blue Room Lounge in the Chicago area, when a person whose name has not yet been released began shooting in the bar. According to a CNN report, witness said Roberson “bravely stopped the shooter and pinned him to the ground.”
Soon after, a white Midlothian police officer, whose name hasn’t been released, fatally shot Roberson. Police said Roberson was wearing all black clothing and nothing identified him as a security guard. But one has to wonder: did his clothing call for him to be executed on the spot?
Violent white men like the Charleston shooter Dylann Roof (who’s said he doesn’t regret what he did, by the way) can be led away in cuffs without incident. In the Roberson case, a black man doing his job and being the good guy is immediately assumed to be anything but and is shot down.
This is just one example of myriad cases, like that of Philando Castile who told police he was armed — not as a threat, but simply to let them know he had a license to carry.
And he was shot to death anyway. We could talk about how the National Rifle Association went completely silent about that case when it was a black man’s gun rights that were stomped on, but that would be another column entirely. And so many were quick to condemn Castile despite having a perfectly legal license to carry.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some people said Botham Jean, the man who was killed in his apartment by former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger because she thought he was in her home, should’ve have been armed so he might not have died. I don’t think many of these people realized they were saying he should’ve fired upon a law enforcement officer. I also heard people say, “Well, he didn’t comply with Guyger’s orders!” It was his apartment and she was the intruder, but he was still blamed for what happened.
“Trayvon Martin smoked pot!” Maybe, but that doesn’t mean he should’ve been killed as he was. “Walter Scott was running from the police!” He was unarmed and wasn’t heading toward the officer, who luckily was convicted of killing him, but I’m haunted by the fact that some people constantly search for a reason to condemn a minority shooting victim. I hope someday they ask themselves why they’re doing that. But I have my own theories.
So when people ask, “What are these kneelers even protesting?” think on these examples. And these are only a few.
Let’s also take note of the fact that so many of these people who condemned athletes for “disrespecting America” didn’t bat one eye when the president of the United States of America didn’t participate in a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. The cognitive dissonance is astounding.
2: Among the rights veterans fought to defend was to protest peacefully, which is protected under the First Amendment. I am not a veteran, and I’m sure someone would tell me that because I’m not I should stay in my lane. But I will tell you I’ve talked to many veterans and read personal commentary from veterans on the issue of protesting by kneeling. Of course we’re not going to all agree, but the ones I know who’ve had a rational perspective haven’t threatened to shoot anyone who protests peacefully. They have all said even if they don’t like or agree with the kneeling, they acknowledge they fought for these players to be able to protest that way.
And it’s true. They did. And we are all grateful to them for it. Players are not disrespecting you by kneeling. In fact, I’ve heard some veterans argue the opposite. They said they were glad that the rights they fought so hard to defend were being exercised so passionately.
3: This one is an obvious point, but it didn’t occur to me until I told someone what was said at the local Veterans Day event: “Yeah, that’s especially inappropriate given all the mass shootings lately.” And it is.
Statistics show in 2015 there were 373 mass shootings in the United States — more than there are days in a year. Those shootings killed 475 people and wounded 1,870 others. Jumping ahead, according to Business Insider, the U.S. this year has already reached 307 mass shootings as of Nov. 8, with the latest one taking place not 30 miles from where my sister lives.
People can decry being politically correct all they want, but the way I see it, refraining from making shooting jokes isn’t “being too PC.” It’s being mindful, having tact and thinking of your fellow human beings.
4: By saying something like that, you’re actually supporting arguments made by those who want better gun control laws in this country. Many people in the places I’ve lived are staunch supporters of the Second Amendment, but too many of them have this incorrect notion that an effort is under way to revoke it. That’s not so. But the correlation between gun violence crimes in the United States and accessibility to guns in this country can’t be denied. A June 2018 Washington Post report shows there are 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the U.S. — enough for every “man, woman and child to own one and still have 67 million guns left over,” meaning there are more guns in this country than there are citizens. These numbers don’t include firearms owned by law enforcement agencies or militaries.
After 35 people died in a mass shooting in Tasmania in 1996, Australia immediately amped up their gun control laws. Since then, they’ve only had one other mass shooting. A “bad guy” with a gun is scary enough. But a “good guy” with a gun threatening to use it without just cause? That’s even scarier, and makes me want to advocate for background checks before a gun purchase that much more.
I’m sure someone out there will tell me, “Oh, lighten up.” I’ll lighten up when I’m less worried about the possibility of my family members being shot less than 30 miles from their home. I’ll lighten up when we don’t have to have student-led marches around the country because so many politicians put the importance of cold metal guns over warm beating hearts. I’ll lighten up when the statistics in the United States actually show progress toward a less violent America. And I’ll lighten up when the joke is actually funny.

Lindsay Kriz is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or lkriz@brunswickbeacon.com.