The Place Where You Live: Two neighborhoods, two grocery stores, two shootings and two responses
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Place Where You Live is a regular column from a variety of writers in Elkhart County. As the column's name suggests, they'll write about issues affecting their neighbors and communities.
While we were sleeping …
A beloved neighborhood market goes about its business of providing groceries to the community it serves, and everything seems right in the world until a severely disturbed young man decides it is time to start killing people. Before police get their man, two victims are dead in the store — one of them a 20-something employee who just started really living. I am speaking, of course, about the Saleh’s Market shooting on Middlebury Street.
Did you think I was talking about the Martin’s shooting? That’s not surprising since it was not even three months ago, but Martin’s was only 132 days after Saleh’s.
I've heard people say, “This sort of thing just doesn’t happen here” after the Martin’s shooting, and they really believe that. During the seven years that preceded the Sandy Hook shooting, the city of Newtown, Conn., had just one murder. In contrast, over the past seven years Elkhart has had 43.
In Newtown they could say, “This sort of thing just doesn’t happen here.” We can’t. The people in Newtown were completely blindsided; we in Elkhart have been suffering a slower, yet more massive loss.
Jan. 15, 2014, wasn’t the first time people were killed in this city, and it’s not even the first time two people were murdered by a mentally unstable gunman in a grocery store in Elkhart. It already happened 132 days prior. So what made this shooting measurably more galvanizing?
Hundreds of people did not show up to the Saleh’s vigil. There weren’t representatives, elected or otherwise (including senatorial) from tax-funded agencies or positions. Facebook pages didn’t garner thousands of supporters in a matter of days for the victims and no one worked as hard to pay it forward until the Martin’s shooting. There was no national news coverage for Saleh’s. I challenge you to ask yourself: Were the two victims at Saleh’s worth less? Because as a community, our inaction worked hard to prove that they were.
I would like to think that it was the result of selective bias and not malicious intent, but I do not believe the pain of the victims’ families would mirror the inequity that our response as a community did.
Arguments that Saleh’s was not a “real” grocery are laughable. That’s a real neighborhood grocer and one of the last of its kind. Some may feebly point to the excuses that it was in a poor neighborhood, or that the men were minorities, or that the victims were men, but those are the only straws left to grasp for. I hope we can reflect on whether we collectively believe that their lives are worth less because they were poor, or minorities, or men, because the reality is that our response to their deaths was a slap in the face to some in the community when compared to the Martin’s shooting response, regardless of whether or not it was our intention.
What does it say when we don’t equitably connect with all murder victims? We don’t really care that it’s happening, it would appear. While we were sleeping over the past 10 years, we’ve accrued a substantial body count. According to www.neighborhoodscout.com, 96 percent of American cities are safer places to live than Elkhart. Read that again. This is not someone else’s problem: This is a collective problem we need to face as a city united.
We can’t be the city with a heart if we’re not showing love to all our residents all the time, with total equity. Unfortunately, the pain this city tasted with the Martin’s shooting is a staple of the diet for Elkhart’s minorities.
But we can do better, because this city still has a pulse. We saw it when we raised thousands of dollars to bury a young man killed in a church parking lot. We saw it in our response to the Martin’s shooting.
When we lose another neighbor — and we will — we need to respond with the same fervor that lead this most recent groundswell of compassion. The “City with a Heart” can demand no less of itself than to love one another equally.