This is a safe community, but what went wrong?
Something gruesome happened in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Two girls stabbed a helpless little twelve year old nineteen times. She almost died. More traumatic than the knife jabs themselves was the fact that these three were supposed to be friends — members of the same community.
Yet, it happened. And, the news of that vicious crime made national headlines. It circled the country. The news popped up in other people’s Facebook news feeds and scrolled across the tickers on the twenty-four news networks. Experts tried to explain what happened. But, it didn’t happen to them. For them, it was just a startling piece of news the man on television reported.
See, it happened to us and to the people we know and love. It happened in our community. That little girl was rushed to our hospital and treated by our doctors and nurses. We told our friends about it. The news passed around our town by word-of-mouth.
At our cafés and restaurants, we talk about it. We ask ourselves why this evil thing should have happened to our little girl in our community. This is a safe community. People know one another and look out for one another here. What went wrong? What didn’t we do right? Where did we fail?
Waukesha county is my home. My sister and brother-in-law live in the town of Waukesha. I spent my birthday there last week, fishing in a little stream — the kind you find in small town rural America. I caught a blue gill that afternoon, but I threw it back in the water. It belonged there. Things have their place in Waukesha.
For example, if you want a big box chain store, then you have to go far outside the downtown area. Those aren’t downtown. On the edge of town, they keep a big city car dealer. But, people get around on foot downtown. They know where to find things. So, they walk. As they go, they greet and talk with their friends and neighbors. On cool summer evenings, they like to walk past the little mom and pop stores that populate the main street. There is a little old ladies’ dress shop that doesn’t sell designer labels. There, the women buy dresses that don’t reveal their backs and shoulders. And, they pick out hats they wear to the little churches that stand near the center of town. I think they sell gloves there, too, which the women wear on Easter.
If you’re not a little old lady, then you can go to the bookstore across the street. It features the work of local artists and novelists. And, the shop is within walking distance of my favorite coffee shop. Sometimes I’ll pick something up there and then walk over for an iced coffee drink, stopping to talk to locals along the way.
If you want some music on a weekend night, then the downtown’s main street is the place to go. Sometimes they rope it off for a music or guitar festival. Locals know the difference, but I digress. Les Paul, the inventor of the electric guitar, was from here. We have a street named after him. But, he isn’t the town’s only claim to fame.
Waukesha is one of the birthplaces of the Republican Party. In fact, it is the most Republican county in the nation. On election nights, it lights up red like a big pimple. Shortly after Paul Ryan was tapped as Mitt Romney’s VP pick, he made one of his first public appearances here. He spoke to a crowd in a field by a farmhouse. I was there, but I don’t remember what he said. All I remember is that pick up trucks and minivans rolled in by the hundreds for hours and local farmhands brought square haystacks over for the old people to sit on. Then, the ladies’ auxiliary and the men’s civic groups served punch and ice cream and the children played in the field. That night, we all felt like deer caught in headlights as national television crews and swarms of journalists descended upon us. We felt uncomfortable with the attention, strutting around like peacocks. But, we were together and that felt right.