Walmart teaming up with federal government leaves columnist leery

Jon Weiler

Jon WeilerColumnist

I sat visiting with my father-in-law over the holiday break about our new plans for the coming year. His big plan was to run a 5K in May, which I thought was great because I am also a runner. He is not, and it was a big step for him. I told him that I had two: the first is to start baking my own bread and the second is to boycott Walmart.

“Why’s that?” he asked, head half-cocked with a confused smile on his face.

I told him that it was because of their decision to “partner” with the Department of Homeland Security in what they’re calling, “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign. He asked me what that was and I explained that Walmart stores around the country are putting in teleprompters with the DHS telling shoppers to report suspicious activity to a Walmart employee.

He thought about it a moment and then asked, “Well, don’t you think that it’s a good idea to keep the people informed and have them alert to what’s going on around them?”

The answer to this question is yes, absolutely. I believe that awareness is a great thing. The problem with the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign is that they fail to define what is suspicious. Furthermore, I am more curious as to what is suspicious enough to warrant a terrorist threat at Walmart. That’s what this video is for right? To prevent further foreign terrorist attacks on the U.S.? The DHS could not be implying that we should turn in American citizens for being what we individually perceive as “suspicious,” could they?

I spent 2003 in Iraq, living in a blown-out warehouse, occupying a large portion of Baghdad. One of our tasks was to gather intelligence on former Baath Party members in the area. This was accomplished with locals in the area and involved us either soliciting information from individuals or individuals coming forward with information, both with the possibility of a reward. Most common were individuals coming forward with information. For example, someone would come to our facility stating that they had information on a Baath Party member or high-ranking person in Saddam’s military and we would take that information to apprehend whoever was the target. However, we quickly found that the majority of this intelligence was inaccurate. Most of the people we apprehended were either honest mistakes or victims of spiteful neighbors.

Martial law was in effect during most of my time there, and these false reports were a direct result of the environment we had created. Neighbors began to turn each other in, either for the reward or because of a neighborhood squabble.

So what does this have to do with Walmart? When the authority responsible for keeping us safe from foreign terrorists teams with a major domestic corporation in asking the consumer to be suspicious of one another, it creates an environment of mistrust and resentment. This restricts a free and open society by causing the citizens to be apprehensive of one another. It is one thing to be cautious of day-to-day violence that is possible everywhere in the world. It is an entirely different thing to report a fellow shopper as a terrorist threat, one that most associate with 9/11 or the Oklahoma City Bombing.

I am confused as to why the DHS is asking the American people to disrupt their daily lives and spy on their neighbors, especially in what can be perceived as a highly volatile time in our nation. One might say, “Well, that’s not what they’re doing,” but my reply is what are they doing? Why are they are asking citizens to report suspicious activity without stating what is suspicious? If I am going to ask someone to perform a task, however big or small, I will define exactly what I want done. If I don’t, then I am prepared for the consequences of an undesirable outcome. Certainly the DHS, a federal agency, is not asking us to help Walmart catch shoplifters, are they? Why is the authority in charge of keeping us safe from foreign terrorism, one of the reasons we are still at war, asking us to perform such a powerful task without providing any guidance? Maybe more importantly, why are they asking it to begin with?

Jon is a non-traditional student majoring in English. Reach him at [email protected].