The square

_MG_2352.JPGThe Columbine High School shooting happened when I was 8 years old. I heard somehow that 12 students and one teacher were killed and remember immediately going to my bunk bed and crying for a while. The event was such a horrifying shock for the country that years later we watched a documentary about it in history class during my freshman year of high school. It’s not the same now. The country has experienced several mass shootings in schools and other places during the past few years with more victims than Columbine, sometimes several times more.

One of those shootings killed 17 people at a Parkland, Florida, high school last month. Several of the school’s surviving students have since become a political force, pushing Florida to tighten some laws for purchasing guns and calling for marches around the country and beyond. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in them yesterday, including several hundred in a couple parts of northwest Arkansas.

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_MG_2332.JPGMy coworker Ashton Eley reports in today’s paper that more than 400 people gathered for the demonstration in Bentonville’s square, where I took these photos. (And if you want to see more photos, our photographers have a gallery of great stuff.)

Teachers, students, parents, grandparents and others together demanded such policies as providing more complete mental health services in schools, supporting research into gun violence, banning assault-style rifle sales and confiscating guns from domestic abusers (which has some conservative support and happens in several states). Volunteers helped people register to vote, and teenagers coming of voting age swore they would soon wield their votes for the gun-control cause.

Police and sheriff’s deputies meanwhile paced around the square and watched from the surrounding buildings. A few counter-protesters came out, too, including black-clad members of a white nationalist group started by an Arkansas neo-Nazi. Other counter-protesters, including a group in blue called the Freedom Crew, vehemently distanced themselves from such racism and said they were there simply in support of the Second Amendment. Folks on this side of the debate generally see tightening gun laws as burdening a constitutional right or a dangerous limit to personal liberties.

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_MG_2505.JPGThe debate’s an old one, but it does seem different after the Parkland shooting. I’ve seen veterans and doctors speak out about the unique devastation assault-style rifles can inflict on a human body, which I don’t remember before. Others rightly point out complications: School shootings are still rare, and most firearm deaths in this country happen because people turn their firearms on themselves. Many of the youngest among us say they won’t just go to their rooms to cry, that their voices will be part of the debate. We’ll see what happens next.

Dan

The week of protest

_C1_9503.JPGHave you kept up this week?

Millions of marchers took to the streets in all 50 states and around the world the weekend of President Donald Trump’s inauguration to protest sexism and sexual assault and shout a full-throated message of inclusion and diversity. A week later, thousands more have protested against the president’s plan to build a wall on our southern border and his Friday executive order that sharply curtails the acceptance of refugees and other immigrants, particularly from horror-filled Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. Meanwhile, more people are fleeing war and persecution than at any time in recorded history.

The Trump administration said the order would help protect against terrorists who could be among refugees’ ranks, though this hasn’t happened under the current refugee application system, according to the libertarian Cato Institute. The order certainly made a splash, slamming the door on students, families, allies of U.S. armed forces and others on their way to the U.S., earning bipartisan criticism and sparking worries over whether the executive branch would obey court orders against it.

_C1_9430.JPGOne of the protesters was this woman above, Simone, whose mother escaped the Cambodian killing fields, where more than 1 million people lost their lives at the hands of a dictatorship a few decades ago. She and a couple hundred others turned out in downtown Fayetteville with signs quoting the Statue of Liberty’s plaque and Biblical passages. They urged the White House to keep the door open for refugees and other immigrants no matter their religion or homeland.

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_C1_9488.JPGI’ll add one more thought: Support a newspaper, even if it isn’t the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. I’ve written about the effects of refugee, health care, climate change and immigration policy and will do everything I can to keep doing so — and I’m just one reporter at one paper. This is shaping up to be a defining year of my lifetime and in the country’s history, and even if it’s a lot to keep up with for all of us, we absolutely must keep trying to learn about what’s going on and what it means.

Thanks for looking, and keep your eyes open.

Dan

A Call for Compassion

_C1_8252The national rancor over the tens of thousands of Central American children coming to the border has reached Fayetteville.

About 40 people rallied yesterday near downtown to gather donations for a charity near the border and to tell U.S. officials to take care of those kids. From my story:

Gang-related violence reigns in these children’s home countries, according to multiple reports from the area. El Salvador’s murder rate is the second-highest in the world, for example, according to the U.S. Department of State. Children, including infants, have been killed by at least the hundreds, sometimes reportedly by other children.

“These children only have two options now: either flee or die,” said Fernando Garcia, president of Fayetteville’s OMNI Center, which focuses on a range of social justice issues and organized Monday’s rally.

Of course, other people vehemently disagree on how much we should be helping these kids. Many politicians say the border should be tighter, while others have said the children are dangerous and potentially diseased.

It’s a fascinating and revealing discussion, and one I’ve been wanting to cover somehow — this rally gave me the chance. We had a staff photographer there, but I snapped a handful of my own images, too.

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_C1_8246(That’s Fayetteville’s mayor, Lioneld Jordan.)

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_C1_8236Other news media were also on the scene.

Thanks for looking. I recommend keeping an eye on the politics surrounding this issue. Several charities are also working to help these children and some of their families as they wait for court hearings.

Dan

Marriage in Arkansas

_C1_4961Same-sex marriage came to Washington County, Ark., this morning, following a state judge’s ruling Friday overturning the state’s gay marriage ban.

Dozens of couples were waiting when the county courthouse opened its doors. I have a full story running tomorrow, but I can tell you the crowd was a mass of happy tears and cheering and hugs and laughing.

Many questions remain: The attorney general is appealing the decision, most counties are saying the decision doesn’t affect them, and the Arkansas Supreme Court could issue a stay at any moment. A stay would likely invalidate these marriages and prevent more marriages for weeks while the court considers the state’s ban.

The couples getting married were aware of all of this, which gave the rapid-fire marriages some urgency. But for the moment they were happy to be together.

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Thanks for looking.

Dan