Nothing happens in a vacuum especially tragedies like the one that took place over the weekend in Tucson, Arizona where Congresswoman Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Gifford was shot point-blank in the head at the hands of a man named Jared Lee Loughner.
According to reports Gifford is lucky to be alive but when she recovers she is likely to have difficulty speaking…Sadly there were 5 people who didn’t come home that night. They include a nine-year old girl named Christina Green. She’s the grand-daughter of former Philadelphia Phillies manager Dallas Green.
There was a District Judge named John Roll, 63.There was Gifford’s aide Gabe Zimmerman, 30. There were several elders including; Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; and Phyllis Scheck, 79.
Before we move forward let’s think about the people slain for just a moment….Let’s Pause…Let’s Stop, think.. Reflect…
Let’s think about the family of Christina Taylor Green. Look at your kids. Think about your grandkids. Could you imagine if this was your child that was shot and killed in Tucson?
Think about the fact that the reason young Christina was present on Saturday was because she had just been elected to some sort of student office at school and wanted to further her interest in government. She was eager to meet Congresswoman Gifford to get some pointers. Her distraught parents said she wanted to see democracy in action.
Christina was interested and enthusiastic in a way only a child could be. It was that sort of innocence and beauty that was lost the other day in Tucson.
Let’s think about Gabe Zimmerman..He was thirty years old..a young man who by all accounts had his best days before him…Let’s think about him for a moment.
Who was he? Did he have brothers? Sisters? Kids of his own? What did he mean to his family? How heartbroken are they today? What about his friends? His loved ones?
Think about the 4 seniors slain, John Roll, Dorothy Morris, Dorwin Stoddard and Phyllis Scheck. Since when has it been ok to kill the elderly in such a brutal fashion? They were parents and grandparents. How are their families feeling? Think about the pain their loved ones are going through.
Imagine if it was your mom or dad who went down to the store to see their congressperson and never returned? How would you feel? Think about the pain of losing one of your parents suddenly… Think about that for a minute…Think about losing your sweet mom.. Think about losing your dad.. Think about losing your grandmother or grandfather to senseless violence. For many such thoughts are unbearable. Such thoughts are unthinkable.
The question we all must answer is how many of us really thought about this loss of life enough to change the way we engage one another in our political discussions and do we really want to?
The Climate of Violence Has Been Building for a While
When thinking about Gabby Gifford being shot and along with those slain Gabe, Christina, John, Dorothy, Dorwin and Phyllis I could not help but think about all the crazy death threats that have been directed at everyone from President Obama in the two years he’s been in office all the way back to my Congresswoman Barbara Lee shortly after the 9-11 attacks
For those who don’t recall, Lee was the lone vote in Congress who said ‘No’ to Presidents Bush’s Post 9-11 Use of Force Act which would’ve increased his powers and resources to wage war against the Taliban.
Lee voted No and next thing you know she was showing up to our church with Secret service in tow. Her office was threatened, she was threatened, there were vicious editorials accusing her of being UNPATRIOTIC..
I heard radio commentators who never served one day on the frontline of any war , talking crazy about how we need to fight, kick ass and not show weakness by talking about peace. During those turbulent times, we were all asked to choose a side and anything not supporting the war effort was deemed less than honorable.
We saw a return to some of those sentiments this past september on the anniversary of 9-11 when there was a proposed building of a mosque/ community center several blocks away from Ground Zero. We had former mayors, sitting senators, a governor and numerous Congressman publicly state that it was wrong for fellow American citizens to build a mosque in an area that contained fast food joints and strip clubs, because according to them, it would be insensitive. The people backing the Mosque were warned that moving forward with their proposal would inflame the masses and that it would lead to violence.
In the days leading up to the anniversary that we heard some of the most vile and insidious things said about our fellow citizens who practice Islam and it wasn’t too long before violence, homegrown American violence, reared its head and mosques were vandalized, bomb threats issued, people assaulted. One unlucky innocent cab driver named Ahmed Sharif was stabbed in the throat by an individual named Michael Enright who decided that the best way to resolve the issue would be through an act of violence.
Nothing happens in a vacuum. I can go on listing all sorts of examples. They range from students in inner city schools being required to shed so-called gang colors from their attire least they enrage the local thugs who will come to the school and cause problems to women being told to dress less provocatively for fear of inflaming the uncontrollable passions of a would-be rapist to gays and lesbians being told to keep their sexual orientation to themselves otherwise they might upset any number of homophobes.
I bring up these examples to make a larger point. If I, we and us all are being told to calm it down, who is seeing to it that the on air punditry and Fox News personalities to tone it down? No one.. When the subject is approached its called FREE SPEECH. Its called POLITICS.. Its called Americans standing up for their rights. We have all sorts of other euphemisms being used to describe over the top, coarse behavior. When do we draw a line in the sand and say no more? No more to inflammatory rhetoric?
Is Harsh Rhetoric and Violence a Habit We Can’t Kick
Now I’m fully aware that there were quite a few who read this including some who have media platforms where they get to have daily one way conversations with the public who saw my suggestion about reflecting on the loss of life as corny. It’s something that should literally be dismissed and there are all sorts of justifications.
Some will say that the thought of trying to be civil especially at this day and time when there have been so many attacks launched our way is not happening. They’ll be cynical in thought and say something along the lines; ‘Love and Peace? Fuck that… It’s about No Justice, No Peace.. They’ll have concluded, that part of our problem is we’ve been civil for far too long and its gotten us nowhere. They’ll note that we’ve been way too nice and all its gotten is more venom and a perception that we are somehow weak. Many of us have come to believe the old adage Nice guys finish last especially in the arenas of love and politics.
Upon hearing about the tragedy in Arizona if the first thing that went through our minds was the hateful rhetoric of a Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck vs the faces of those injured and slain juxtaposed with our loved ones, what does that say about us? Did a bit of our humanity die with those slain or was it an affirmation that our humanity has been long gone and we best find ways to get it back?
If Sarah Palin was busy erasing tweets, scrubbing her Facebook pages and hiding that infamous map with the crosshairs targeting Gabby Gifford, or some other politico who uttered hurtful words was suddenly consulting PR firms to do damage control and figure out what sort of spin to apply to this incident while the dead bodies in Arizona were still warm, what does that say about them? What does it say about us that we still embrace and give such people who show no remorse validity?
Again, nothing happens in a vacuum and this killing spree was no exception. Many of us, when we talk about violence we tend to see incidents like the one in Tucson as isolated and limited to the person pulling the trigger.
Can We Explain Away Domestic Terrorist as Mentally Deranged?
We wanna explain away accused shooter Jared Loughner as a deranged, emotionally disturbed man who simply needs to be condemned and locked up. We wanna suggest there is absolutely no reason to connect him to hate groups or see him as part of a larger terrorist cell. I guess for many of us, it’s simply too hard to accept that emotionally disturbed people are susceptible to the being recruited by hate groups or partaking in terrorist activities. We like to believe that once we lock up Jared Loughner and throw away the key we’ll all be safe again and things will go back to normal. The question all of us better be asking ourselves; ‘What is normal’?
Is a normal society one where we soundly reject uncivil threatening behavior or is it one where embrace, and even reward it?
Is a normal society one where we take the high road and try and be above the fray or is it one where we scream louder, bully harder, get down and dirtier, and be more violent than anyone else in order to win an argument or political contest?
How many times have we heard our so-called experts explain that negative advertising during a political campaign works? How many times have we heard about the need for any one running for office to hire someone to dig up the most vile and nasty things of an opponents past to use against them? How many times have we seen pundits resort to outright lies, trickery and underhanded schemes to trip up and take down a political opponent? We’ve convinced ourselves that the only way to win an argument or a war is to smash on your opponent and show no mercy.
All is fair in love and war, is what we say to ourselves. Is it fair when someone shoots and kills someone to make their point? Is this the type of society we want?
Very few people like to see themselves in that sort of light, yet if you listen to many of our esteemed political punditry and media experts, that’s exactly what we crave. We want aggressive over the top behavior in all arenas. We want it in politics. We want it in our music. We want it in our entertainment.
It doesn’t matter whether or not its an enraged Bill ‘O’Reilly impugning us to not allow Dr George Tiller to get away with anymore late-term abortions as he launched a on air crusade resulting in his death, or a smug Glenn Beck demonizing the Tides Foundation which led to a white supremacist to seek out employees of that organization, or Beck threatening to kill filmmaker Micheal Moore, or a Jerry Springer where on his TV show he has two sisters fighting each other over a man or a popular rap artists like Kanye West depicting women hanging in his latest video and receiving praise for being artistic.
Like it or not from what we as a society seem to embrace or allow to go unchallenged in our midst… the violence, mayhem and this weekend’s massacre, is the American Way. We as a country relish such things. We have to own up to it. Anyone saying otherwise has to explain the undeniable proof of high TV and radio ratings where civility is tossed out the window. They’ll have to explain the popularity of certain websites and high YouTube views where this sort of madness is routinely played out.
Have we gotten to a point where the thought of being civil is uncomfortable? Has anger and venomous behavior become habits we can’t shake? Have we fostered an environment where showing compassion makes us marks?
Many of us are caught up in an all too pervasive cycle of violence both directly and indirectly. Death has become all too routine. It doesn’t matter if you live in the hardest of hoods or if you live in the most pristine of suburbs.. All of us our caught up.. ALL OF US.. including myself. We’ve created an environment where the loss of life is abstract and vastly cheapened.
Lastly we must put all this in larger context. There was a terrible tragedy in Tucson Arizona over the weekend. It was the same weeknd that we saw 3 young men get killed in a nightclub in San Jose California. It was the same weekend in any city and town USA where someone pulled out a gun or a knife and took a life. Massacres in our respective communities are happening all the time.
Case in point, many of us have shown an interest in what took place in Arizona, but were we empathetic? If so did that same empathy carry over to tragedies closer to home? Last night here in Oakland, several hundred people showed up at a vigil for the senseless killing of a promising 17-year-old named Christopher Jones. He was gunned down a week ago in front of his mother and sisters as he placed his nephew in the back seat of a car . He was not gang banger, trouble maker or anything like that.
Like Jared Loughner we don’t know all that led these young men to shoot another in broad daylight in front of his family. Were they part of a hate group? Wete they emotionally disturbed, mentally deranged? Was it too much gangsta rap? Too much Fox News? Or did they take a cue from the larger society that has left violence on the table as away to get points across?
Did the young men who shot Christopher wrap themselves in this climate of violence the way that many of us are saying Jared Loughner did? If so who’s the next to sip the kool aid and go on a killing spree? Who’s next to tragically die as a result?
At the end of the day do we care? Do we really care about the slaying of Christopher Jones or the 5 people slain in Tucson, Arizona or are they all collateral damage in a society that has firmly decided that violent loss of life is part of our increasing strident political and social landscape?
something to ponder