Other Opinions

Wal-Mart parking lots epitomize decline of safe places

Where is your safe place? Do you have one? Should you have one?

These questions popped up as I read a story in The Commercial Dispatch. While the story was about universities providing emotionally safe places for students, it made me wonder about safe places for people of all ages in our communities.

Once upon a time in Mississippi, local law enforcement could make whole communities feel like safe places. Growing up in Canton in the 1950s and 1960s, I felt safe at home, walking across town to elementary school, and riding my bike to the far end of town to work a night shift at the shirt factory. The only time I recall feeling unsafe was when one or more local bullies decided to whip my scrawny, well, you know.

Progressing to present time, we find local law enforcement in many communities overwhelmed and unable to provide such preventive security.

Perhaps nothing epitomizes the decline of safe places more than Wal-Mart parking lots.

From a Bloomberg Businessweek story in August: “More than 200 violent crimes, including attempted kidnappings and multiple stabbings, shootings, and murders, have occurred at the nation’s 4,500 Wal-Marts this year, or about one a day.”

From a Mississippi TV station news story: “Police have filed charges against one person involved in a shooting incident that happened at the Wal-Mart midnight Tuesday. Four possible suspects in the shooting have been detained.”

As a result, more and more mothers, fearing for their safety, now scan Wal-Mart parking lots and carry pepper spray or guns to head off attacks.

From a Mississippi “Community Watch” Facebook page: “White male tall skinny. Wearing work boots blue jeans and navy/black hooded jacket with it on his head. He approach (sic) me walking to my truck with (my baby) in my arms asleep. I already had my keys out. When I saw him when I walked out of Wal-Mart he was close to the grocery side entrance walking across the parking lot. I had already spotted him as suspicious while walking out. By the time I got to my truck he was literally about 10 steps from me and my baby. When I pulled my gun out he turned away and walked on by.”

The Bloomberg story cited a senior police officer who can’t believe that a multibillion-dollar corporation isn’t doing more to stop crime. Instead, he said, it offloads the job to the police at taxpayers’ expense.

If wealthy Wal-Mart can’t/won’t provide safe places for its shoppers, what are persistently robbed quick stops supposed to do? Or citizens facing drive-by shootings and home invasions?

Most communities are too financially strapped to beef up police presence enough to keep all shopping areas and neighborhoods safe places.

This is just one case where home rule would give communities options to address growing problems. Unfortunately, lawmakers in Jackson regularly spurn mayors’ requests for such flexibility.

As for safe places, in more and more communities you’re on your own.

Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian. Write to him at crawfolk@gmail.com.