I imagine a mother in El Paso. She came there from Mexico five…10…it doesn’t matter how many years ago she arrived. She’s lived in a state of fear for as long as she can remember. She watched in disgust when a man started his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans rapists and thieves. She watched in fear when that man was elected president. She watched in terror as the threat of ICE agents tearing her away from her kids looms over every second of her life. In spite of that fear this woman has to lead a life as a mother. And part of that life is leaving the house to buy school supplies for her kids.
So she goes to Walmart. Walmart, of course, is the most American place in the world. The retailer is the largest private-sector employer in the country, with more than 1.5 million workers. The CEO earns more than a thousand times the median wage of his employees, most of whom struggle to pay for their basic necessities on a given day. That’s part of what keeps Walmart’s prices so cheap, which is why the store is packed every day. Especially Saturdays.
Walmart also sells guns. Again, it’s the most American of places.
Of course, that mother in El Paso in my mind wasn’t thinking about all of that when she went to the store to buy those school supplies. I imagine she wouldn’t have thought about anything but survival when the first semiautomatic gunshots rang off in the store. She probably wouldn’t think about the 21-year-old white gunman being the latest in a lineage of violent white men who wreak havoc on the rest of us. She wouldn’t know that the man gunning down dozens of innocent people did so out of a desire to kill Mexicans thanks to the radicalization at the hands of the president and the people who enable him. She just doesn’t want to die. She just doesn’t want to die while shopping for mechanical pencils.
Next door as those bullets rain down in a Walmart there’s a man I don’t have to imagine. His name is Glen Oakley, a member of the United States Army. He said he heard gunshots and saw children running for safety without their parents, so he immediately jumped into action. He scooped up as many as he could to get them to safety. Some of the children wiggled away from him; maybe they thought he was one of those ICE boogeymen they’ve heard about in horror stories that keep them up at night.
Oakley is a black man. Which means that while he was saving little children, he was stopped by police who thought he may have been the shooter. He had to let the officers know he was saving lives, then showing them his license to carry and the gun in his possession. This act put his life in as much danger as he was in by staying near the Walmart.
I also imagine that Samaria Rice, Esaw Garner, Geneva Reed-Veal and Tressa Sherrod – whose son, John Crawford III was gunned down by police in Walmart for holding a toy gun – watched the news of the El Paso shooting. I imagine they saw the image of the shooter subdued by police. Alive. Unscathed. I imagine they didn’t even bother to wonder why or how police took him in alive when they have denied so many black people that same humanity. They knew. We all knew. That doesn’t make images of a living American terrorist minutes away from an all-too-common massacre juxtaposed with the limp bodies of unarmed, innocent black people who have had their lives ripped away by police who live by the manifestos the El Paso shooter left on social media.
Back to the mother I imagine. Maybe she hurts herself in the fracas. Maybe a set of pans or a set of folders or a Hot Wheels box falls on her. Maybe the fall leaves a gash on her arm. Or she sprains her ankle. Or she’s maybe even grazed by a bullet. Maybe she needs medical assistance. But she can’t get any. Because she’s afraid that ICE will use the medical centers to detain her. She remembers the story about ICE setting up a fake college websites just to lure international students in for deportation and persecution. She has seen the pictures and stories of babies killed in ICE custody. She knows nothing is below the organization.
So she limps home and tends to her own wounds. She puts her kids to bed and reassures them that the gunfire is over and tells them as she has for the past year or so that the ICE Boogeyman isn’t coming for them. She is alone and awake trying to find a way to sleep the trauma away, for she has just lived the most American day. A day where we have seen unchecked white nationalism and hatred in raw form with no end in sight. Where she tightropes between avoiding being gunned down while shopping and government agents destroying her family. The same American day where Glen Oakley walks that same fine line between bullets ripping holes in his bodies because he’s in the way of a white man’s rage and almost being killed by police who refuse to see him as a hero even as he’s committing a singular defining heroic act. The same American day where politicians spread meaningless thoughts and prayers across social media like so much hollow points through the produce section. The same American day we won’t remember next week when we are four mass shootings removed from the one in El Paso. This past American Saturday was just another day in America. And one that ends with one last news story: “Breaking: Mass Shooting In Dayton, Ohio.”
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and adjunct professor of Journalism at Morehouse College. David’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, The Atlantic, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the internet.