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It was a quiet morning, the temperature already soaring, as it will on any El Paso Saturday in August.
Dewayne “Rock” Jones was preparing to raise a flag up the pole at a memorial in Concordia Cemetery.
It is the Buffalo Soldier memorial, which I had never seen, despite it being there nearly 10 years.
There are about three dozen updated headstones, with interpretation markers, the flagpoles and a wall with donation bricks.
Jones had already raised the American and Texas flags over the memorial and was about to raise the Buffalo Soldiers’ “Ready and Forward” flag, as we visited. He explained the soldiers are not interred there, but elsewhere spread out in the cemetery, often with insufficient markers. The memorial was a way to celebrate and honor their collective service despite, as African-American soldiers, having spent their service as second-class citizens.
Jones is part of one of the driving forces of the memorial, the El Paso Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club. He’s the club’s chaplain.
Charitable work is part of the club’s mission: “As Buffalo Soldiers, always remember that you have the responsibility to Teach, Coach, Mentor, Motivate and Dedicate yourself to our youth and our communities” their website states.
The EPBSMC organizes senior dances, provides service to community centers, makes holiday visits to the children’s crisis center, feeds the homeless, visits veterans homes, works on litter cleanups and, among many other things, provides Christmas gifts to the children’s hospitals.
“It’s really something to see those kids’ smiles light up, even though they might be too weak to lift a small gift,” Jones said.
The work they do goes across every community in El Paso, and occasionally includes events in Las Cruces.
As both African-Americans and motorcycle club members, Jones and his compadres are among two of America’s most historically maligned and negatively stereotyped groups, yet there is only positive in anything this organization does.
As I stood there with Jones, in the heart of El Paso, the skyline and the south end of the Franklin Mountains in view (if it had been dark you could see the famed Lone Star alight on the side of the mountain) I got emotional as Jones talked about visiting dying children in the hospital, and the pride he took in doing maintenance on the memorial.
Five miles east of where Jones and I stood, as he and I were talking, something sinister was happening.
A man filled with hate and evil calmly walked into a Walmart crowded with shoppers and delivered violence and mayhem, killing innocent men, women and children.
As Jones was discussing the best of humanity, how people can help and comfort one another, we had no idea that, just a few minutes away, people were experiencing the absolute worst of humanity.
I bid adieu to Jones and walked across the street for breakfast at the L&J Cafe, where I would soon learn the first bits of news about the shooting. I got emotional, both sad and angry, as I pondered the senselessness. As the day unfolded, the information came to light about the darkness that took place in Walmart, each detail darker than the last.
Not long after I made the short trip back home to Las Cruces, we learned of the killer’s apparent pre-meditation, his quest to drive 600-plus miles with the sole goal to commit mass murder on Hispanics.
In the hours and days after the shooting, I thought about a lot of things, as all of you have. And we barely had time to sleep when we learned of another shooting in Dayton, Ohio. Yes, as Las Crucens and New Mexicans, we have our little rivalries with El Paso and Texas, but we are much more brothers and sisters than we are enemies. Almost all of us have friends and family in El Paso. We care, and this hurts. Badly.
I thought about America at large, and all of our contradictions. I thought about Mr. Jones and the African-American soldiers, who fought and died for our nation’s ideals, even as they were denied them. I thought about the freedoms we have, and why we have them, and all the soldiers, including thousands of Latinos, who have fought and died for those freedoms. And I thought of the growing rolls of innocent victims of the evil and sick people who have abused America’s freedoms.
Then I thought about all the things we have done as a country to prevent these types of killings since the first one I remember, in 1986, in a post office in Oklahoma, my home state. But when I thought of what we have done to prevent these types of killings, which have increased exponentially in the last 33 years, I didn’t have to think long.
Because we have done nothing to prevent them.