During the last four years of his life, my father and stepmother moved to the northwest side of Tucson to be near their doctors and the medical facilities at Northwest Hospital. They settled in the area of Orange Grove Rd. and LaCanada Dr., first in an apartment complex, and then later in an assisted living/limited senior care facility just around the corner. They didn’t have to do a lot of grocery shopping, since most of their meals were included with the cost of living in the care center, but they occasionally needed a few things. Their medication was perhaps their largest out of pocket expense at that time, and my Dad had been a customer of Safeway for years, so their pharmacy was his preference. So they located the closest one to their home, and made themselves regular customers. It turns out that it was the same store where Arizona Congressman Gabrielle Giffords and 19 other people where shot yesterday.
It was surreal, watching familiar scenes in television news reports, referring to such a tragedy. Though my Dad passed away six years ago, and my stepmom moved back to New York, It is disconcerting to realize that a familiar place, one which most people would consider to be completely safe, could be turned so quickly into a place of danger, death and tragedy. The parents of the nine year old girl, Christine Green, who was killed, along with five others, certainly felt safe sending their child to that particular location with a neighbor, five minutes away from their home. So did three other victims, in their 70’s, who showed up, and were also killed.
It’s been many years since I’ve lived in Arizona. I was born and raised there, not far from Tucson, and in fact spent a few years living there. I even worked for a while in the school district where the shooter went to school. That was a long time ago, about 30 years ago to be exact, though I still have family members who live and work in Tucson. And though places do change over time, there’s nothing about Tucson, and nothing in particular about the upper middle class neighborhoods that make up its Northwest side, that would make it any more likely to be the scene of such an event than anywhere else in the country. And that’s probably what is most frightening about this particular event. It could just as easily have been the neighborhood grocery store in the neighborhood shopping center down the street from where you or I live. And it will be something I think about the next time I pull into a parking lot.
Certainly the statements people have made about the political polarization that seems to have been “racheted up” in recent years was a contributing factor. “Political vitriol,” isn’t productive. Talk radio exacerbates it to make a profit off of it, and excuses it as both free speech and pure, free market economics. Give the dollar amounts involved, it is hard to determine whether those show hosts are sincere, or in it for the money. Congresswoman Giffords herself expressed concern over language used when her district, along with 18 others, were placed on a list Republicans needed to “take back” by using language such as “targeted” and “in the crosshairs” and the facebook page operated by Sarah Palin used the images of rifle sights to designate their locations. Giffords made note of the fact that, while speech is free, there is also a level of responsibility associated with it, and in cases like this, there can be consequences. She was right.
Somehow, we have gravitated to a point in American politics where disagreement automatically makes you someone’s “enemy,” or “dangerous,” and that if someone with a political view other than yours happens to get elected, it will spell the end of America as we know it, and will undermine all of our values. Those behind the microphones, and who have the ability to have their words broadcast are generally careful enough to avoid being accused of being deliberately inciteful, but they don’t always account for the fact that there are fringe elements and extremists out there who hear hints in their language, and aren’t restrained by the values they think they are supporting. Apparently, one of those lived in Tucson, bided his time, and planned his destruction for maximum effect.
Such is the world we live in.