A New Jersey reader writes:
I was watching a video review of a Ruger Mini-14 on my laptop while riding home from work on a New Jersey Transit bus the other night. I sat quietly against the wall of the bus for a solid 40 minutes traveling from NYC to New Jersey, with my headphones on, minding my own business, anxious to get home since I needed to pick up medication for my wife. Every now and then I noticed the guy next to me was acting squirrely. He was on his phone a lot while drinking his beer in a brown bag but I didn’t think anything of it. The bus finally got off the Turnpike and arrived at its first stop . . .
Suddenly I see a police officer coming to the back of the bus. I take off my headphones wondering why a police officer would be on the bus and what could be happening when he turns to me and asks me what I was watching. Being completely caught off-guard and with a huge lump in my throat, I told the officer I was watching a review video about a rifle. He then asked me to get off the bus and come with him.
Everyone on the bus was looking at me like a convicted felon and a monster. I got my coat and bag and left with the cop. Once outside, we were met by three more officers as my bus pulled away. They then began to ask me, again, what I was watching. It was reported I watching “offensive” material. They wanted to know what was on the video, etc.
I proceed to explain that I was simply watching a rifle review video about the Ruger Mini-14. They then ask me if there was any “German eagles” in the video or beheadings. I was then truly perplexed and started to get really worried. There are no beheadings or even scenes of violence and there were no “red flags” or “German eagles” anywhere to be seen.
It then dawned on me that the Ruger logo had appeared in the video, so I explained that to the officer. Thankfully he was aware of what the logo looked like. After showing them some of the video and explaining what I was watching, they realized I wasn’t doing anything illegal . . . though I didn’t know that watching “offensive” or “political” material while on public transportation is a crime.
The senior officer on site apologized for the inconvenience and even offered to have one of his fellow officers give me a ride back to my house. One officer even made a crack about what he thought of Ruger which I got a chuckle from.
To the oolice officers who handled the situation, I definitely commend them for their professionalism and courtesy. They did their department proud and they all seemed like very affable guys after the initial parts of the encounter. However, the incident is more than a little troubling since I wasn’t threatening anyone or acting violently.
Maybe the person who called the police lied about what was actually going on. Unfortunately for me — a law abiding American citizen who pays his taxes, a father and husband — I’ve now been publicly ostracized and embarrassed in front of all those commuters. I was made to feel like some kind of terrorist or murderer for non-threateningly exercising my First Amendment right by watching a video about a legal-to-own rifle.
Such is the uphill battle we face in the state of New Jersey and in the United States of America. I wonder if I had been watching an action movie where 20 dudes are using actual machine guns and the body count was piling up, if anyone would have even batted an eye lash.