Whom we mourn

May Ethan Schmidt and Amy Prentiss, who were shot to death yesterday in Cleveland, Mississippi, rest in peace, and may those who love them commemorate their lives by living as fully as possible.

Ethan Schmidt, a professor at Delta State University, was killed in his office; Amy Prentiss was killed at home.  As a “school shooting,” Ethan Schmidt’s death dominated US cable news for several hours, and led to massive law enforcement activity on and around the campus of Delta State.

That coverage and law enforcement activity led me to think about social class. What if Ethan Schmidt had been killed at his workplace, not as the professor he was, but as the liquor store clerk he might have been?  Would MSNBC, CNN, and Fox have given the event saturation coverage?  Would dozens of square miles have been subjected to a virtual state of martial law, with multiple local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies on site, until progress was made in the case?  Or would the whole thing have been unlikely to make the front page even of the local paper in Cleveland more than twice, and would the one police officer assigned to investigate the case have faced a challenge trying to get the resources necessary to conduct a proper investigation?

I think of a friend of mine who for some time had two part-time jobs.  He taught a couple of French classes in the same university where I teach. He also worked as the night clerk at a liquor store. Had he been (God forbid!) shot in his office at the university, no doubt it would have provoked the same massive response from the media and law enforcement that followed the death of Ethan Schmidt.  Had he been (God forbid!) shot at the counter in the liquor store, perhaps there would eventually have been some kind of news story about his distinguished record as a teacher on several continents, but for him in his capacity as a liquor store clerk, surely there would have been the same underwhelming response that usually greets crimes against people in that line of work.

May all liquor store clerks killed at work rest in peace, and may those those who love them commemorate their lives by living as fully as possible.

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