Rep’s comments on veterans and shooting victims sparks backlash

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 17, 2015….A social media post authored by a freshman representative from Cape Cod about military suicides and police shootings drew criticism for being racist on Tuesday as the lawmaker defended himself by putting the focus on the media’s handling of both issues.

Brewster Rep. Timothy Whelan’s Tuesday morning Facebook post shared a photo originally posted by the veterans advocacy website and featured Capt. Jamie Ann Brunette, a 30-year-old Floridian and 11-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, who reportedly committed suicide Feb. 9, according to online obituaries.

The full post read: “Know her name. Know it, and honor this woman who suffered mental wounds that you cannot see while serving our Nation with honor. The media has made sure you know Trayvon Martin’s and Michael Brown’s name, and they represent the worst our society has to offer. Instead, know the name of a hero like Captain Brunette. Thank you, Ma’am, for your honorable service defending our freedoms.”

Whelan’s post was later edited to remove the entire sentence which referred to Brown and Martin.

“I certainly found the comment to be racist,” Roxbury Rep. Russell Holmes told the News Service after being asked about the post. Holmes, who chairs the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, said he does not know the Brewster Republican well and would not go so far as to call Whelan a racist.

Martin, 17, was shot and killed in 2012 by a neighborhood watchman who considered the unarmed teenager a threat in a case that sparked protests across the country. Brown was killed in an altercation with a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri after he robbed a store.

Holmes said what bothered him most was Whelan’s characterization of Martin and Brown as “the worst our society has to offer.” Holmes said Whelan could have paid tribute to Captain Brunette without criticising Martin or Brown.

When asked about the comment, Whelan said he was referring to the media’s coverage of the shootings in comparison to the lack of coverage of veterans’ suicide.

“I described them and the media uproar as being collectively the worst of society and what we have to offer because I feel very, very strongly… that there’s not enough attention paid to the post-traumatic stress that our returning heroes are dealing with coming home,” Whelan told the News Service Tuesday afternoon.

Before his election last year, Whelan spent almost 30 years as a corrections officer, U.S. Marine and state trooper.

When asked directly if he thinks Brown and Martin themselves represent the “worst of society,” Whelan replied, “I feel the media furor, the media fury that surrounded it represents the worst in society, to be clear about that.”

“If that controversy starts a discussion that will get the media to pay attention to the onslaught of veterans suicides then I say that’s a good thing. So if this ends up being a conversation starter, then that’s a good thing. People always have a right to disagree with me, but I feel very strongly about this issue,” Whelan said.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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