Shaw with his daughter, for whom he wishes a less violent world. Photo by Mark Zaleski/The Tennessean
Just days after a white, right-wing, AR-15-toting punk senselessly killed four young people of color and injured four more, the Antioch Waffle House near Nashville reopened Wednesday, with all sales going to the victims' families. A spokesperson said the first diner, whose total bill was $8, paid $100 to the victims' fund. Outside the restaurant, a memorial of balloons, flowers and crosses honors those murdered early Sunday morning: Taurean Sanderlin, 29; Joe Perez, 20; DeEbony Groves, 21; and Akilah DaSilva, 23. Three of the victims were African-American, one was Latino. The shooter, a white extremist, likely would have killed more if he hadn't been tackled by James Shaw Jr., an unarmed, 29-year-old black man who was there after a Tennessee State alumni party and instinctively grabbed the still-hot assault weapon as the shooter fled.
Shaw, who works at AT&T and has a four-year-old daughter, was swiftly, widely hailed as "Tennessee's hero," a quick-thinking good guy who stopped any further carnage with his bare hands. On Tuesday, Tennessee's state legislature issued a resolution declaring him "a hero twice over, for he has demonstrated both his courage and character in a manner few could ever attempt to emulate.” But Shaw, who in interviews broke down and wept more than once over the loss of life, insisted he was no hero or "Superman," just a regular guy who wanted to see his daughter again: “I didn’t actually do it to save people, I did it just to save my life," he humbly repeated. "And in me saving my life, I saved other lives, (and) that’s probably one of the greatest things you can do."
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Heroic or no, his grace persisted. Later Sunday morning, with the shooter still on the loose, Shaw went to church with his father and prayed for the victims, which he said made him feel a bit more at peace. He also visited two of the wounded in the hospital, and started a GoFundMe campaign for the victims' families. He set an initial goal of $15,000, but to date it has raised over $150,000. Inspired by Shaw's generosity, another resident started a fund to "help the Waffle House Hero"; it, too, has raised over $150,000. Along with their donations, many grateful respondents thanked Shaw for personifying "what is good and right about America." "You may have done it for you, but you did something for all of us too," one wrote. "You gave us some hope."
John Pavlovitz is also reminded of the good in Shaw's saga - the "selflessness that resides in disparate humanity...that people like James Shaw Jr. are precisely what is making America great, and we are called at all times to be prepared to stand up to the monsters when they appear, whether wielding weapons (or) bully pulpits." Shaw's story is also an ugly microcosm of Trump's America, from the shooter's white privilege and well-armed rage to the fact that "people of color have rarely received a hero’s welcome, even when clearly being heroic" to the failure of a white power structure to name such violence as terrorism, as in, "No calls by Fox News to ban angry young white guys." Most appalling has been the deafening, purposeful silence from a racist President and party because "none of the GOP tropes fit, and so there is no high horse to mount, no soapbox to stand upon, no pulpit to pound - and instead, only silence and hiding." Note to Prez Fuckface, who still hasn't even said the name of the unarmed black man who saved countless lives: It's James Shaw Jr.