Racism Hits Home

On Wednesday, February 22nd, there was a shooting at Austin’s Bar and Grill in Olathe. This random act of violence hit very close to home. Not only did I live in Olathe for twenty years, my home was only a couple of blocks from this family bar and grill. I have two daughters who still live in Olathe, not very far from where the shooter was seen while he tried to escape capture.

My ties to that particular bar and grill run deep: for most of the twenty years we lived in Olathe, Austin’s did the cooking for us two or three times a week; neighborhood get-togethers were held there; my youngest daughter worked there for multiple periods of time; and my two daughters who live in Olathe still go there occasionally. Austin’s is a neighborhood hang-out where, much like the bar on the television show Cheers, everybody knows each other. It is truly a family place.

The rumors, which are only rumors at this time, is that the shooting was motivated when a man in his 60’s was asked to leave after making racist comments about two men who were at the bar. After he left, he went home, got his gun, and returned to shoot those two men, along with another man who tried to detain him. One of the men died of his injuries.

I can only imagine the level of horror and confusion experienced by the  men, women, and children who were in the restaurant at the time of the shooting. They were kept in the restaurant for hours, and a large part of the surrounding neighborhood was put on lock-down while the police looked for the shooter. The suspect was not arrested until after midnight, so many of the people in Olathe went to bed last night with a very real fear that there was a dangerous man with a gun in their neighborhood.

After one of my daughters let me know about the shooting, I read the Facebook posts of a number of my friends who still live in the area. There was a lot of incredulity mixed in with the fear. You see, Olathe is a small town that has been enveloped by the city. To many it’s a suburb, but there is still a very strong small town mentality. This mentality tends to include an assumption that all the crazy stuff happens in the city. This morning as I read the articles online about the shooting the consistent theme was “This doesn’t happen around here.”

As I relaxed in my quiet midtown apartment last night, I once again pondered the differences between the suburbs and the city. I was amazed that one of my first reactions was, “Welcome to my world.” That would be a callous thing to say and it would completely trivialize what was a really serious and frightening incident. What that horrible thought really made me realize is what a huge gap there is between my friends in the suburbs and my friends in the city.

Nobody likes living with violence nearby, but it is a reality when you live in the city. In Olathe, hearing the police sirens and the search helicopters overhead was a frightening experience of a nature that they are used to seeing on TV, not in their real lives.

I know that if one of the restaurants in nearby Westport, or the Plaza, had a shooting, I would be staying indoors until I got the all clear and I may or may not be a little freaked out by it. What I also know is that I barely even notice police sirens or helicopter sounds in the neighborhood. I clearly remember walking on the Plaza one evening when the friend I was with heard the search helicopters and idly wondered what was going on. We kept walking and the sound had no influence on our plans for the evening. We later found out there was a shooting a few blocks from where we had been. It was a weird feeling, and definitely made us think twice for a while, but when you live in an area with a high population density, there is violence.

But for the majority of people who live in small towns or the suburbs, violence is something that happens in the “bad neighborhoods,” and I am already seeing the people of Olathe struggle with trying to accept what has happened. One respondent to a post on Facebook, which was basically just a news update, said of the shooter: “(he) was a kind man. He was not full of hate. He had ptsd, severe depression, and for the…years we (knew) him, he was severely alcoholic. He was a kind, but very disturbed man…” I one hundred percent accept that the man was kind to this woman and her family. I believe that he needed help for severe mental issues. I do not accept that he was kind. It is not kind to make racist remarks to someone because they were not born in this country and their skin is a different color than yours; it is not kind to shoot someone for these same reasons.

Another respondent stated: “I did not like (the man.) He was sick and a drunk. However, I can’t believe people who are calling him a racist, Isalmophobe (sic,) and/or a terrorist….when they have NO idea.” If muttering that someone needed to go back to their own country isn’t racist, what is?

There is probably not a single person incarcerated in this, or any other country, that doesn’t have someone that they once showed kindness to. Who are these people who are so shocked? Are they really that oblivious to the rest of the world that they don’t realize that there is very little black and white in this world? To assume someone has to be either good or evil is simplistic at best. Or that if you actually know a criminal there must be extenuating circumstances?

For all that went wrong that night, there were things that went right. There was the guy who told the man who was making racist comments to stop it; there was the Austin’s employee who asked the man to leave; and there was the guy who thought all the bullets had been shot who tried to detain the shooter. These are the people who give me hope. I know there are a lot more people out there who will not tolerate racism or discrimination, and each and every one needs to stand up for those who are being discriminated against. I am proud of the way that average Americans are standing up for what they know is right.

What are your thoughts?