Please, lighten up folks


Today’s article marks my sixth submission to the Times-Gazette’s opinion page over about as many weeks.

Throughout this time I have tried to highlight the overcriminalization of life in our nation while poking fun at some of our absurd laws. I actually began this effort a couple years ago with some public internet posts discussing these same issues.

After my first series of posts, I received a message from someone deeply offended by my suggestion that morally innocent people could be prosecuted for conduct that is benign and harmless. I responded to her message with another public post which made clear that I absolutely believe that our absurdly overbroad laws make everyone criminals.

These laws put everyone’s liberty at risk based on the whim of a law enforcement officer or prosecutor. If a citizen upsets the wrong person, then they might go to prison for innocuous behavior such as making an unusual noise at the post office — and yes, that is illegal: 18 U.S.C. § 3061(c)(4)(B) & 39 C.F.R. § 232.1(e).

After that post, my critic blocked me on social media, and I haven’t heard from her since. I believe my critic was a little oversensitive. Truth be told, I think our whole society is a bit too sensitive these days. Consider the culture at our colleges and universities.

A few weeks ago, the president of Southeast Missouri State University attended a football game. While walking through the stadium parking lot, he encountered some young men tailgating, and the students offered him a beer.

The university president accepted the beverage, and upon seeing a beer bong sitting out he went a step further and offered to utilize the device. The students loved the idea, and they immediately took video footage of the occasion, sharing it with their friends.

They celebrated their university president as “cool” and “amazing.” A few others did not share the student’s enthusiasm and denounced the incident as offensive. Within days, the university president issued a long letter of apology expressing deep regret for using a device associated with binge drinking and assuring those offended by his behavior that he would never allow such a lapse in judgment to occur again.

A few days ago, Kent State University canceled its production of “West Side Story.” Students at the university were outraged when the cast was announced and non-latinos were cast in several roles depicting Puerto Rican characters.

A university student, Viviana Cardenas, was one of the students offended by the casting decision. She stated that, “When there is this story that is about people of cultures like me, about people of color like me, and that gets taken away from me … that was the most heartbreaking.”

Viviana auditioned for the role of a Puerto Rican character, Anita, but an African-American student was ultimately cast in the role instead. Prior to canceling the production, the university’s theater director, Eric Van Baars, had the audacity to state that, “the casting decisions were made based on which of the candidates the directors felt could best fill the roles.” This assertion was decried as insensitive and racist.

I may be wrong, but isn’t acting essentially pretending to be someone else? I just do not find it offensive to cast a musical based upon who is the best performer instead of who is the correct race.

Clearly, I am missing something. A quick review of the University of Southern California’s faculty handbook on “Microaggressions” lists the following as examples of things faculty should never say to students, because they might send a negative or derogatory message:

• “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”

• “America is the land of opportunity”

• “America is a melting pot.”

• “Where are you from?”

Maybe I am not sensitive enough, but I think we’d all be okay if we lightened up just a bit.

While we’re talking up lightening things up, be careful not to sell un-pitted canned cherries if any cherry is lighter than 0.1o ounces. That’s a federal crime. 21 U.S.C. §333 & 21 C.F.R. §145.125(b)(1)(ii).

John Judkins is a Greenfield attorney.

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