Words aren’t enough but they’re all we got

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I am not one of those people who despise Walmart. I understand how it has killed mom-and-pop businesses and shuttered many small town downtowns. I know of complaints, both nationally and locally, of how employees – euphemistically called associates – have been maltreated.

But, much like our federal government, Walmart is not absolutely evil. The last eight years of my teaching career, many of my students relied on Mom or Grandma’s Walmart paycheck to pay the rent and buy groceries, and many of them got their first jobs there. I still chat with former students; my cashier the other day has one semester remaining to earn her degree in criminal justice, ironic since she is Hispanic and therefore suspected by some of criminal activity as an accident of birth.

Another former student is king of the parking lot. I know when he has a day off, because shopping cart corrals will be overloaded. He walks to work and hauls the buggies back into the store in rain, heat, snow, whatever. School was difficult for him, and his first jobs, in fast food places and Tyson, did not work out well. But he tells me he is socking away extra money in his Walmart pension account, and with the help of his pastor, has bought a small house. He may end up at Walmart for decades.

I pity those old folks who must work there – limping greeters and white-haired cashiers. But who else is going to hire old folks? Since we relocated to Carroll County, I have made the Walmart pilgrimage thousands of times, so some workers are like old friends. One guy always talks baseball with me – only recently did I learn he has a degree in broadcast journalism. A woman in the pharmacy always knows I am coming for my mother-in-law’s meds; the other day I learned she has had heart surgery, and she shook my hand over the counter just because I asked.

I cannot imagine what would happen if Berryville Walmart was ambushed by a nut with a big gun and hate against some class of people who don’t look like him. All the people who work there would be traumatized, the bloodied workplace would be permanently tainted.

Recent headlines stated that the Colorado school district home to Columbine High School is considering tearing down and replacing that school, due to “morbid fascination,” much of it by men who hope to surpass the death count and reputation of the event that started the chain of school shootings.

So will Americans begin to erect memorials, tear down churches and synagogues, as a possible way to deter shooters? Will the El Paso Walmart be demolished and rebuilt three blocks away?

What would happen if Berryville Walmart were invaded by someone who targeted Marshall Islanders, who are here by special dispensation because the United States poisoned their home as an atomic bomb-testing ground? They look weird, talk funny, dress differently. What if some nut went into the Eureka Springs United Methodist Church to shoot ‘em up because they welcome gay people into their sanctuary?

Two different things are happening to us, as a people. First, we become immunized against reports of another gun attack – today a kindergarten, tomorrow a nightclub, next day a shopping mall – ho-hum. Second, we put up our guard. We install security cameras, hire armed guards, practice “active shooter drills” (part of school curricula now). We lock our doors. We carry guns on our hip or in our purses. We shoot a stranger on the front porch, only to learn it was our son.

“Do something!” shouted people in Dayton. Mitch McConnell says he’ll do nothing unless Trump will sign it. Trump, true to form, is already backpedaling, since he needs input from the NRA.

The body politic is suffering. Columbine copy-cats will shoot up schools, maniacs will invade Walmart to shoot the invading brown people, religious fanatics will shoot up a church, Islamic temple or synagogue in the name of their faith. Do something?

Kirk Ashworth