Opinion | Making People Uncomfortable Can Now Get You Killed (2023)


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Guest Essay

Opinion | Making People Uncomfortable Can Now Get You Killed (1)

By Roxane Gay

Contributing Opinion Writer

Increasingly, it is not safe to be in public, to be human, to be fallible. I’m not quoting breathless journalism about rising crime or conservative talking points about America falling into ruin. The ruin I’m thinking of isn’t in San Francisco or Chicago or at the southern border. The ruin is woven into the fabric of America. It’s seeping into all of us. All across the country, supposedly good, upstanding citizens are often fatally enforcing ever-changing, arbitrary and personal norms for how we conduct ourselves.

In Kansas City, Mo., Ralph Yarl, a Black 16-year-old, rang the wrong doorbell. He was trying to pick up his younger brothers and was simply on the wrong street, Northeast 115th Street instead of Northeast 115th Terrace, a harmless mistake. Andrew Lester, 84 and white, shot him twice and said, according to Ralph, “Don’t come around here.” Bleeding and injured, Ralph went to three different houses, according to a family member, before those good neighbors in a good, middle-class neighborhood helped him.

In upstate New York, a 20-year-old woman, Kaylin Gillis, was looking for a friend’s house in a rural area. The driver of the car she was in turned into a driveway and the homeowner, Kevin Monahan, 65, is accused of firing twice at the car and killing Ms. Gillis.

In Illinois, William Martys was using a leaf blower in his yard. A neighbor, Ettore Lacchei, allegedly started an argument with Mr. Martys and, the police say, killed him.

Two cheerleaders were shot in a Texas parking lot after one, Heather Roth, got into the wrong car. One of her teammates, Payton Washington, was also shot. Both girls survived, with injuries.

In Cleveland, Texas, a father asked his neighbor Francisco Oropesa to stop shooting his gun on his porch because his baby was trying to sleep. Mr. Oropesa walked over to the father’s house and has been charged with killing five people, including an 8-year-old boy, with an AR-15-style rifle. Two of the slain adults were found covering children, who survived.

At a Walgreens in Nashville, Mitarius Boyd suspected that Travonsha Ferguson, who was seven months pregnant, was shoplifting. Instead of calling the police, he followed Ms. Ferguson and her friend into the parking lot and, after one of the women sprayed mace in his face, according to Mr. Boyd, began firing. Ms. Ferguson was rushed to the hospital, where she had an emergency C-section and her baby was born two months early.

And sometimes there is no gun. On Monday, Jordan Neely, a Michael Jackson impersonator experiencing homelessness, was yelling and, according to some subway riders, acting aggressively on an F train in New York City. “I don’t have food, I don’t have a drink, I’m fed up,” Mr. Neely cried out. “I don’t mind going to jail and getting life in prison. I’m ready to die.” Was he making people uncomfortable? I’m sure he was. But his were the words of a man in pain. He did not physically harm anyone. And the consequence for causing discomfort isn’t death unless, of course, it is. A former Marine held Mr. Neely in a chokehold for several minutes, killing the man. News reports keep saying Mr. Neely died, which is a passive thing. We die of old age. We die in a car accident. We die from disease. When someone holds us in a chokehold for several minutes, something far worse has occurred.

A man actively brought about Mr. Neely’s death. No one appears to have intervened during those minutes to help Mr. Neely, though two men apparently tried to help the former Marine. Did anyone ask the former Marine to release Mr. Neely from his chokehold? The people in that subway car prioritized their own discomfort and anxiety over Mr. Neely’s distress. All of the people in that subway car on Monday will have to live with their apparent inaction and indifference. Now that it’s too late, there are haunting, heartbreaking images of Mr. Neely, helpless and pinned, still being choked. How does something like this happen? How does this senseless, avoidable violence happen? Truly, how? We all need to ask ourselves that question until we come up with an acceptable answer.

In the immediate aftermath, the New York City mayor, Eric Adams, couldn’t set politics aside and acknowledge how horrific Mr. Neely’s death was. Mr. Adams said: “Any loss of life is tragic. There’s a lot we don’t know about what happened here.” His was a bland and impotent statement, even though the sequence of events seems pretty clear and was corroborated by video, photography and a witness. And while any loss is in fact tragic, this specific loss, the death of Jordan Neely, was barely addressed. Mr. Adams didn’t bother to say Mr. Neely’s name and went on to equivocate about his administration’s investments in mental health, a strange claim to make while allowing first responders in New York City to involuntarily commit people experiencing mental health crises.

All of these innocent people who lost their lives were in the wrong place at the wrong time. In most cases, armed assailants deputized themselves to stand their ground or enforce justice for a petty crime. Some claimed self-defense, said they were afraid, though some of their victims were unarmed women and children. We have to ask the uncomfortable questions: Why are men so afraid? Why are they so fragile that they shoot or harm first and ask questions later? Why do they believe death or injury is an appropriate response to human fallibility? Public life shared with terrified and/or entitled and/or angry and/or disaffected men is untenable.

We are at something of an impasse. The list of things that can get you killed in public is expanding every single day. Whether it’s mass shootings or police brutality or random acts of violence, it only takes running into one scared man to have the worst and likely last day of your life. We can’t even agree on right and wrong anymore. Instead of addressing actual problems, like homelessness and displacement, lack of physical and mental health care, food scarcity, poverty, lax gun laws and more, we bury our heads in the sand. Only when this unchecked violence comes to our doorstep do we maybe care enough to try to effect change.

There is no patience for simple mistakes or room for addressing how bigotry colors even the most innocuous interactions. There is no regard for due process. People who deem themselves judge, jury and executioner walk among us, and we have no real way of knowing when they will turn on us.

I will be thinking about Jordan Neely in particular for a long time. I will be thinking about who gets to stand his ground, who doesn’t, and how, all too often, it’s people in the latter group who are buried beneath that ground by those who refuse to cede dominion over it. Every single day there are news stories that are individually devastating and collectively an unequivocal condemnation of what we are becoming: a people without empathy, without any respect for the sanctity of life unless it’s our own.

It’s easy, on social media, to say, “I would have done something to help Mr. Neely.” It’s easy to imagine we would have called for help, offered him some food or money, extended him the grace and empathy we all deserve.

It’s so very easy to think we are good, empathetic people. But time and time again, people like us, who think so highly of themselves, have the opportunity to stand up and do the right thing, and they don’t. What on earth makes us think that, when the time comes, we will be any different?

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Why was Neely killed? ›

A medical examiner ruled Neely's death a homicide caused by depression of the neck. Lawyers for Penny, a white U.S. Marine Corps veteran, say he acted in self-defense.

Where is Jordan Neely from? ›

Jordan Neely was a 30-year-old black man who grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey. In 2007, when Neely was 14 years old, his mother was murdered by a man with whom she had been in an abusive relationship. Her body was found in a suitcase on the side of the Henry Hudson Parkway. Neely was called to testify at the trial.

What did rake do to Neely? ›

Rake took out his anger on Neely, first by insulting him and then he reared back and punched Neely in the face, breaking his nose.

How did Neely trick Mitch? ›

Afterwards when Mitch asked her how things went, she told him that Peter was now married and had a son (which was later revealed to be a lie, as Neely had selfishly decided Mitch that would be a much better husband and father instead of Peter and wanted him for herself).

Did the Neelys have kids? ›

Pat and Gina got married in 1994 and welcomed one child, daughter Shelbi, in addition to Gina's daughter Spenser from a previous relationship. The Neely family was already famous for their successful barbecue restaurants across the U.S. before landing their own Food Network series.

How many biological children does Pat Neely have? ›

Pat married Gina in 1994. They have two daughters: Spenser and Shelbi.

How old was Jordan Neely? ›

Jordan Neely, a 30-year old homeless man, was declared dead after a struggle with other passengers on 1 May. Daniel Penny, a 24-year-old ex-Marine who was filmed by an onlooker as he restrained Mr Neely, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Why was rake fired? ›

During a grueling unsanctioned Sunday morning practice in 1992, Messina player Scotty Reardon died of a heat stroke. Rake's brutal training methods are called into question and the superintendent of education, who also is Reardon's uncle, fires Rake.

Why did coach Rake get fired? ›

However, in 1992, Rake's grueling and abusive methods of training led to the death of one of his players, Scotty Reardon, which ultimately led to Rake's termination as coach.

What does Neely finally do during his eulogy? ›

What does Neely finally do during his eulogy? How is Coach Rake always with him? He accepts Coach Rakes apology, because he said "Once you played for Coach Rake, you carry him with you forever. What did Rake make Neely promise him?

Does Mitch marry Neely? ›

Mitch Gets Married To. Neely - Baywatch Remastered.

Why is Mitch in a wheelchair? ›

On March 13, 1983, after attending a Senior class party, Mitch was involved in a serious car accident. He was 17 and a half years old when he learned he suffered a spinal cord injury and would be a paraplegic.

How many actresses played Neely on Baywatch? ›

Mitch Buchannon, Neely Capshaw, was played by three actresses: Heather Campbell, Gena Lee Nolin and Jennifer Campbell.

Is Gina Neely a grandmother? ›

I want to be playing with it, helping with it — you gotta hurry things up here! ' And my first born, my lead girl, my 33-year-old, she came through!" Neely, who is also mom to 27-year-old daughter Shelbi, says she won't be going by the name grandma, but will instead be called "Gigi."

How old is Gina Neely? ›

Who was Pat Neely first wife? ›

It's been four years since the former star of Food Network's Down Home with the Neelys got divorced from his wife and costar, Gina Neely, and he has not spoken about the split in public — until now. "At the time, I was hurting. I was devastated.

Did Gina Neely have a baby? ›

Gina Neely has been married to Patrick Neely since 1994. They have one child.

Who did Gina Neely marry? ›

Who is Steve Neely wife? ›

Steve Neely '75 lives in Springfield, Ohio, with his wife, Mary Alice Schryver '75.

Who is the oldest of Michael Jordan's kids? ›

When was Jordan Foster born? ›

How old was MJ when he played baseball? ›

7, 1994 — 10 days shy of his 31st birthday — Jordan inked a minor league contract with the White Sox, effectively channeling his newfound freedom into fulfilling a childhood dream of playing major league baseball.

Why did Neely reveal what happened during the 1987 game now? ›

Why does Neely finally tell the story of the 1987 Championship game now? Because Rake is dead. Describe the events in the locker room during the game.

What happened to make Neely stop playing football? ›

Then, Neely and Silo reminisce about the knee injury which ended Neely's football career. A player from A&M had deliberately gone for his knee in an out-of-bounds hit, and it was a career-ending injury.

Who was the first Neely on Baywatch? ›

Baywatch/Neely Capshaw Buchannon
Neely Capshaw Buchannon
ActorsHeather Campbell (season 5) Gena Lee Nolin (seasons 6–8, TV movie) Jennifer Campbell (season 9)
First Appearance5x22 - Wet n Wild
Last AppearanceBaywatch: Hawaiian Wedding
2 more rows
Apr 7, 2023

What is the hurt that Paul discusses with Neely? ›

What is the "hurt" that Paul discusses with Neely? How is Neely different than Paul? Realizing their glory days were gone. It is different for Neely because he never wanted to relive those days, he hasn't been back in 15 years and Paul still goes to the game.

What did Eddie Rake do to Neely at halftime of the 1987 State Championship game? ›

In a letter revealed at Rake's funeral, the coach states the two regrets of his life were losing Scotty Reardon and for striking All-American quarterback Neely Crenshaw at halftime of the 1987 championship game against East Pike.

Why did rake get fired in bleachers? ›

However, in 1992, Rake's grueling and abusive methods of training led to the death of one of his players, Scotty Reardon, which ultimately led to Rake's termination as coach.

Did Ralph Neely have children? ›

Dallas Cowboys History

Ralph Neely with first wife Dianne and two children Dale and Dedra.

Does Cam Neely have a son? ›

Which famous actress found fame on TV series Baywatch? ›

She is best known for her glamour modelling work in Playboy magazine and for her role as "C.J." Parker on the television series Baywatch (1992–1997).
Pamela Anderson
OccupationsActress model media personality
Years active1988–present
16 more rows

Who was the only real lifeguard on Baywatch? ›

Michael Newman as Michael "Newmie" Newman

Newman played Michael "Newmie" Newman, one of the more experienced lifeguards on the Baywatch team. The actor, who shares the same name as his onscreen counterpart, was the only person on the show who was a lifeguard in real life.

Who is the black haired girl in Baywatch? ›

Traci A. Bingham (born January 13, 1968) is an American actress, model, and television personality. Beginning her professional career in the early 1990s, Bingham is best known for her role as Jordan Tate on the NBC action drama television series Baywatch (1996–1998). Bingham, 2008.


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