I remember where I was on November 22, 1963. And on April 4, 1968. And on September 11, 2001. Today, January 8, 2011 is another date that will live in American memory. Like the other acts of assassination and terror, today’s shooting in Arizona was an attack on all of us, an attack on the country and on the practice of democracy.
Today Congressmember Gabrielle Giffords held another of the evens she calls Congress on Your Corner, a very open meeting with constituents in a grocery store parking lot. And then the shooting started.
According to Reuters, the sheriff’s office in Tucson says 18 people were shot, six of them fatally. Jared Loughner, age 22, was arrested. Congressmember Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head and remains in critical condition. Reuters quotes her surgeon as being “very optimistic” about her recovery, though the doctor describes her wound as “through-and-through … It went through her brain.”
Those who were killed included a nine-year-old child and Federal Judge John Roll.
Was the shooting in Arizona the work of a right-wing crazy? Or just a plain old crazy? Or someone whose craziness was channeled and directed by the hate speech that permeates what passes for public discourse today?
Sarah Palin listed Giffords on her “targets” list during the 2010 campaign. We are told that had nothing to do with today’s shooting, because violent speech has nothing to do with violent actions. That’s the right-wing mantra today, and that was the right-wing mantra last year, when Giffords’ office was attacked.
After she voted for health care reform last year, Giffords received death threats and her office windows were broken. The Washington Post reported in March on a right-wing former militia member’s call to break windows of health care reform supporters:
“So, if you wish to send a message that Pelosi and her party [that they] cannot fail to hear, break their windows,” Vanderboegh wrote on the blog, Sipsey Street Irregulars. “Break them NOW. Break them and run to break again. Break them under cover of night. Break them in broad daylight. Break them and await arrest in willful, principled civil disobedience. Break them with rocks. Break them with slingshots. Break them with baseball bats. But BREAK THEM.”
In the days that followed, glass windows and doors were shattered at local Democratic Party offices and the district offices of House Democrats from Arizona to Kansas to New York. At least 10 Democratic lawmakers reported death threats, incidents of harassment or vandalism at their offices over the past week, and the FBI and Capitol Police are offering lawmakers increased protection.
That kind of innuendo clearly has no impact on people like the one who shot up the democratic gathering today. Those shots were not fired from a fully automatic M16. Today’s shooter reportedly used a Glock. No connection at all.
James Fallows, writing in his Atlantic blog, reminds us: “”Shootings of political figures are by definition ‘political.’ That’s how the target came to public notice; it is why we say ‘assassination’ rather than plain murder.”
Giffords told MSNBC: “We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action.”
Consequences? Today, after the shooting, the crosshairs graphic (above) was finally taken down from Palin’s website.
The Congress on Your Corner events have been a regular feature of Giffords’ outreach to constituents. Aides called police last year after someone dropped a gun on the ground at a 2009 Congress on Your Corner at a Safeway in Douglas, AZ. They were worried about her safety. But part of a representative’s job is meeting with the people she represents. Congress on Your Corner continued.
Judge John Roll was killed today. He, too, had been targeted with physical threats for political reasons. Judge Roll was no flaming liberal – he was appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush. But he became a target of anti-immigration activists. He and his family spent a month under 24-hour protection by federal marshals in 2009, due to the all-too-credible threats against him, according to the Washington Post.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik (quoted in Bob Collins’ NewsCut blog on MPR) knew both Judge Roll and Congressmember Giffords:
I never met a more sincere, brilliant, fair-minded judge in my life. He goes to mass daily and he was going to go home and do the floors as he did every Saturday.
Congresswoman Giffords is brilliant. She’s not about Democrats or Republicans. She’s not about politics. All she cares about is the United States of America.
Sheriff Dupnik spoke for many of us:
Today, I hope all Americans are as saddened as shocked as we are. I hope some of them are as angry as I am. I think it’s time as a country that we need to do a little soul searching. The vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out by people in the radio business and some in the TV business, this has not become the nice United States of America that we grew up in.
And back to James Fallows:
It is legitimate to discuss whether there is a connection between that tone and actual outbursts of violence, whatever the motivations of this killer turn out to be. At a minimum, it will be harder for anyone to talk — on rallies, on cable TV, in ads — about “eliminating” opponents, or to bring rifles to political meetings, or to say “don’t retreat, reload.”