I'll Stick to Sports Some Other Day
This weekend, hell visited my hometown.
I know we are a sports website, focused on soccer and dedicated to growing the sport and that will remain our mission. On the other hand, sometimes the reality of what is going on in the world around us invades the bubble and ignoring it, because “it’s not sports,” would be shirking our responsibilities as journalists.
The shooting in El Paso happened on Saturday morning. That day I was working my day job as a Starbucks manager. A customer in our drive thru mentioned there was something going on at Wal-Mart, because her son who worked in the pharmacy there and was hiding in the backroom because “someone is shooting up the store.”
I’ve heard many crazy things from customers in my drive thru, but nothing like that. You could tell she was upset, her voice was cracking, her face was flushed, she was scared. I immediately went off the floor to check social media. Twitter is great at quick information bursts, as long as you use common sense to filter out the rumors that begin swirling every time an event like this happens. But twitter, at the moment anyway, was silent. I logged into our manager group chat, shared by the other 28 or so store managers locally to see if anyone else had heard anything. Nothing.
The Cielo Vista Wal-Mart is on the same I-10 exit as my store. There is a mall between it and my store, but I’ve been into that location 100’s of times because of work. I know the employees that work there, several by name, but most by sight and the passing nods of people working in the service industry. It’s close enough to make this feel personal and real. Saturday, all I could think about was the greeter, Fuad, who always comes by my store for coffee after work. If someone was shooting at the entrance, he would be one of the first people to face fire. I wasn’t sure what to think in those first few moments.
If you can ignore the rhetoric that gets thrown around about immigration and the border, El Paso is a very safe city. Over the last 10 years, we average 18 murders. We’re a big city in many ways (19th by population in the U.S.), but the mentality of the people and the culture of the city are small town. Everyone knows everyone, people help each other, neighbors say hi in passing. It’s really a wonderful city. Ane one that doesn’t see much violence.
That lack of violence is often offered in juxtaposition to our sister city across the border, Juarez. Rocked by waves of cartel killings, Juarez has been referred to as the most dangerous place in the world or more simply put - Murder City. Unlike other parts of the border, the border in the Juarez/El Paso area is porous and people flow back and forth on a daily basis. Families straddle the border, with aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins, visiting each other on a weekly routine. People shop on both sides of the border, almost entirely without incident. While the people flow freely back and forth, the crime-fueled violence has been almost entirely filtered by the border.
Twitter caught up quick.
The first post was of a woman who was in the store. “Someone is shooting a bunch of people at Wal-Mart. There’s dead bodies everywhere.” When I read it, it sunk in suddenly. It wasn’t a robbery gone wrong or a misunderstood prank. Someone was killing innocent shoppers on a Saturday morning. I immediately sent another message into the manager group chat at 10:52am “There’s a shooting happening at Wal-Mart.”
Almost on cue, we began to hear sirens and could see police cars and border patrol vehicles flying down the frontage heading into the direction of the store. Soon ambulances and fire trucks were streaming past our store. And then we could hear helicopters in the air, first one and soon after another, eventually four would begin circling the area, passing lower than I had ever seen on a normal day in this city.
My phone began to buzz. My boss was calling. First he asked if we were ok and after I responded, he cautioned me “keep your eyes out for a shooter in your area.” While I was worried about the employees and customers up the street, I hadn’t really considered that we could be next. I got silent for a minute and then asked if we should stop serving. “Lock it down.” I hung up and rushed to the doors to lock them.
My wife texted me minutes later asking if I was ok. “You always shop at that store for work, so I assumed you might have been there.” She was right, I had planned on heading to that store just after the morning rush, but had been delayed because I was short-staffed. I could have been in line when that gunman entered the building and killed 21 of my fellow El Pasoans. Instead I was standing safely behind the counter, serving coffee to my weekend customers.
We talk about sports on this site as if they are removed from the politics of our time, but they are connected. They are attached because the people that populate our clubs, coach from the sidelines, sit in the stands, post about the matches on twitter, every one of those people live in this world and vote. We’re not homogenous, of course, I’d imagine there is a broad spectrum of political viewpoints and opinions that fall under the general term “American soccer fan.”
That fact was on display just this weekend in Seattle. A group of white supremacists confronted some fans of the Seattle Sounders at a bar in Seattle. With American flags in hand, the far-right attempted to enter the bar filled with Sounders’ fans but were denied entry by the owner. A crowd of people gathered and both sides began insulting and taunting each other. Sure, soccer was involved, but it was intensely personal and, obviously, political.
The intensity of the rhetoric in this country has reached a level that we can’t ignore it any longer. The far right has begun to openly march and declare their hateful and ignorant views for everyone to hear. It isn’t a matter of conservative or liberal any longer, it’s a matter of right or wrong, American or un-American. Our grandfathers went to Europe to kill people who espoused this type of doctrine. Seeing and hear Americans throw the salute and recycle Third Reich slogans should repulse any citizen of this country.
And the man who drove from Dallas to El Paso to shoot brown people is an ardent believer in those ideas. His manifesto is full of references of ethnic genocide and invading races. He's terrified of his race being eliminated and erased. He’s full of fear. And that fear drove him to kill.
The rest of Saturday was a blur. We sat in our store, blinds down, and called family members. For six hours we waited until the police gave the all clear. We could all go home, but that couldn’t be said for the 21 victims, who lay dead just a couple of blocks from us.
I went directly to my in-laws’ house, where my wife and daughter were waiting. My wife and in-laws are brown people, people the shooter hates, people who would have been a target if they were in that store on Saturday. My daughter has the complicated position of being both white and Mexican-American, but at three, she’s happy being a kid, unconcerned about the insanity that brews around her.
My wife and I went to a vigil at our local high school, a 100 year old building which has seen so much over its lifetime. As we stood with several hundred other El Pasoans, I couldn’t help but think of the generations that had passed through these doors. Those who would have been denied the right to vote. Those that marched with Cesar Chavez. Those that are attending today. That night we stood and wept for the 21 who were gone.
The next day I returned to work.
And so did the rest of the city.
21 of us did not.
We do not have to agree on everything. We can vote for different candidates and parties, that’s the beauty of our democracy.
But we have to agree that hating someone for the color of their skin is wrong. We have to agree that taking a gun and traveling across a state to shoot people of color is wrong. We have to acknowledge that 21 senseless murdered dead in a Wal-Mart in El Paso is wrong. This is all wrong.
The soccer community has long been infected by the political climate at surrounds it. Today we must stand as one to condemn the rise of white nationalism, neo-nazism, racism, and xenophobia. It is not enough to turn a blind eye to it for political reasons. Speaking out, standing against, and refusing quarter to this type of thinking is required of every one of us. The innocent blood of 21 people demands it.
- Dan Vaughn
The views of this article are mine alone.