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.

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About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

15 responses

  1. K Gray says:

    Just heard an NPR show on this. Every single commentator agreed that there was no evidence connecting this shooting to any political rhetoric — no known linkage — BUT this was a good occasion to talk about political rhetoric.

    In other words, there is no linkage, but we’re making one, and it is THE discussion, and we are not going to discuss mental illness; the tension between privacy rights of medical information and public safety; the rights and obligations of public schools (teachers and students all say they knew he was mentally unstable; he could not return to school w/o certification that he would not present a danger to himself and others); whether it violates journalistic integrity to “rush to judgment” and use politicians’ names and photos (Sarah Palin) in reporting a shooting, when no evidence supports a linkage; laws which might keep guns out of hands of mentally unstable people yet pass constitutional muster; whether the occult (he had a skull-shrine) is linked to violence, etc. As well as the suspect’s actual background contacts with Ms. Giffords.

    Let’s not talk about any of that.

  2. Colby says:

    That there is no known connection, at the moment, between Loughner and a right wing political agenda doesn’t necssarily negate a discussion of possible connections, or even a general discussion of “political vitriol” and its possible consequences. Congresswoman Giffords herself pointed this out when the Palin website appeared with the targets over the congressional districts “targeted” for “reloading”, which is one of the main reasons why this particular discussion popped up after the shooting. The Palin website was in poor taste, the denial that those weren’t actually rifle sighting targets was laughable. Palin should have pulled the website and apologized for the rhetoric. It was in poor taste, and contradictory to the claims she makes regarding her Christian testimony.

    I guarantee you, if the situation had been reversed, the congresswoman a conservative Republican, and the shooter the same person, you’d hear Limbaugh, Beck and Hannity screeching at the top of their lungs about how liberals can’t stand it when the people express their will through the ballot box and when one of their “targeted” districts votes the other way, someone sets out to rectify the situation by violent attacks like this. They would take what slivers of evidence exist and manufacture gigantic conspiratorial relationships between the shooter and every possible left-wing extremist group, and probably find connections to Islam as well. One thing is very clear, and that is the fact that this particular congresswoman has been on the receiving end of an undue amount of violence and vitriol because she was one of the Democrats who defeated a Palin-backed Tea Partier. This particular event may or may not be directly related to that, but it has legitimately opened the door for that discussion. The Tea Parties have attracted a lot of right wing extremists, and their propensity to show up at rallies brandishing firearms and shouting threats is responsible for this discussion, and they have no one to blame for it but themselves.

    One thing that the media hasn’t mentioned much, if at all, and that is the discovery that Loughner had some kind of interest in the Neo-Nazi movement. Giffords is Jewish. I’m surprised that hasn’t surfaced in the discussions, at least that I’ve heard.

  3. K Gray says:

    More fact-free speculation. If you have a cite for Loughner having some kind of interest in the Neo-Nazi movement, please give it.

    Read as much as you possibly can on this shooting. Find out facts and list them.

    If the scenario you posit occurred (Democrat victim, right wingers blame it on the left), it would be just as bad. So why are you defending it? It’s prejudice, speculation, inflammatory rhetoric, and political opportunism.

    Here’s a different scenario. Let’s say every time there was a violent act we rushed to blame it on Muslims. Prejudice, pure and simple.

  4. K Gray says:

    I agree with Lee that we who have the ability to have our words broadcast (publicized, whether on radio, internet, blogs, newspaper, etc.) are accountable for them.

    We can unite or divide, edify or tear down, inform or inflame, fan a fire or douse it, lead by example or lash back, address individuals or broadbrush label/accuse groups — all either temperately or flagrantly.

    I looked around to see who was calling for prayer, for calm, for patience as the facts emerge, for temperance, or for real measures that could help this particular situation. And everywhere I looked was the Sarah Palin/vitriol/Tea Partier/conservatives rhetoric meme (starting immediately on the Daily Kos twitter feed and including Kos tweeting “Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin”), almost to the exclusion of (1) expressing concern for the victims , (2) acknowledgment that a Repulican-appointed federal Chief judge was assassinated, (3) facts, or (3) addressing issues raised by the actual facts (public discourse at least as important as the rhetoric discussion). But the blogs went en masse, herdlike, one way, often simply assuming the truth of unproven accusations, fabricating a story to explain a tragedy.

    This sadly is true of many Christian blogs. The narrative was set and the facts will have a hard time catching up. Thus the partisan divides become deeper, prejudices harden, the public is less informed, and we become what we hate.

  5. Lee says:

    The connection with the neo-nazi movement might be an interpretation of the fact that the investigation into Loughner’s personal belongings and past turned up a copy of Mein Kampf, and some statements he’d made expressing admiration for the Nazi movement. I believe this was reported on CNN by Candy Crowley on Sunday, and may have also appeared in one of the articles about him in the Arizona Daily Star.

    No doubt, there have been those on the left who have sprung forward to use this to their advantage, and to the disadvantage of the right, though I have to say that they do not appear to be quite as skillful and adept at this as the masters of misinformation of conservative daytime talk radio, including those mentioned by Colby. The connection to Palin and the website with the rifle crosshairs marking “targeted” districts, as well as the rhetoric she used with terms like “reload” and “target” alluding to the desire to see those congressmen and women in those seats defeated, was made by Giffords herself, when it occurred, which is why the discussion is now moving in that direction. Her tea party opponent spoke on more than one occasion of “taking her out,” not exactly a careful choice of words in what should be a civil debate over policy and political positioning. Giffords was not the only Democrat who defeated a tea party candidate in the general election, and not the only one to experience some kind of violent reaction to a vote she’d cast. While this particular incident may not be directly related, and we’ll probably never know that for sure one way or the other, it has drawn attention to the fact that political debate has moved into an area where it probably doesn’t need to go, and it may be time to draw the reins in and curb the potential violence. Certainly conservatives are not alone in their guilt, though the tea partiers seem to have crossed a threshold in this regard. There were those who used the ballot box in response to change they didn’t like, in some cases, it worked, in other cases, such as that of Congresswoman Giffords, the voters trusted her more than her opponent. Busting out an office window isn’t as catastrophic as shooting someone in the head, but neither should be the response to someone’s opinion and vote in the House.

  6. K Gray says:

    Nicely said, and all exactly the same, right in the flow.

  7. K Gray says:

    “shooting someone in the head, but neither should be a respose to someone’s vote in the House.”

    Spot the false assumption based on zero facts. Really toxic stuff.

  8. Lee says:

    “But the blogs went en masse, herdlike, one way, often simply assuming the truth of unproven accusations, fabricating a story to explain a tragedy.”

    Broad brush here. This blog, if you read it, did not assume the truth of any unproven accusation. The is that Congresswoman Giffords, in response to the “target crosshairs” website, and accompanying gun-language of Sarah Palin, made a statement about the delicate balance between free speech, and exercizing both care and responsibility because there can be unforseen consequences. Several months afterward, she is shot in the head by a nutcase who had some kind of issue with her, and in between, she receives death threats, and her office is violently vandalized. Conservatives and right wing extremists jumped in almost immediately with their own spin, anticipating that there would be collateral damage from the incident, an indication that convinces me, far more than anything else does, that this is a legitimate discussion. You can draw your own conclusions. Conservatives obviously fear that this will subtract from their public image as much as liberals want to make more of it than there is. Was Loughner incited by the political vitriol of the Tea party and the extremist right? It’s a possibility. What is more likely is that he is mentally ill, somehow focused something that was needling him on the Congresswoman, and her immediate availability and public schedule made it possible for him to get close enough to carry out a senseless, unreasonable plan. The door to Sarah Palin’s rhetoric about gettin’ your Moose gun out and goin’ huntin’ ya some liberals became part of the discussion because Loughner picked a victim who had already made note of it.

  9. K Gray says:

    This is what you wrote about “political vitriol” citing talk radio, Republicans and Sarah Palin (as cited by Rep. Giffords):

    “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.”

    Your narrative is:
    – Apparently
    – A fringe element or extremist in Tuscon
    – Heard hints in the inciteful-with deniability political vitriol of those behind the microphones
    – Bided his time (since what?)
    – and planned his destruction for maximum effect (by shooting Rep. Giffords and others).

    That is fabrication.

  10. Lee says:

    The evidence collected surrounding Loughner, including comments from those who associated with him, indicate his association with the off-beat, extremist fringes of several divergent political views, some leaning to the left, some to the right. He encountered the Congresswoman early in her first term, at a similar event, and held on to a letter he received from her on which he had apparently scribbled his assassination intentions. Bided his time since what? Probably since then. His home address is just blocks away from the Safeway store where she was holding a highly publicized event.

    If Palin hadn’t ever said anything about her moose hunting in a political speech (not in reference to actually hunting moose, btw) and had never posted a website using the crosshairs of a rifle scope to point out congressional districts where Democrats were “targeted” for defeat, causing Congresswoman Giffords to call her out, this discussion wouldn’t be focusing where it is focusing. There’s a whole history of vitriol and violent action associated with politics in 2010, from the screechers and hollering individuals who showed up at town hall meetings to rudely interrupt, prompted by talk radio disc jockeys, to the spitting at Representatives on the steps of the capital, to the individual who shot out the front entrance to Congresswoman Giffords’ Tucson office. If none of those things had occurred, then the “speculation” would be moving in an entirely different direction.

    So what do you call it when Rush Limbaugh does it?

  11. K Gray says:

    Why speculate? Keep an open mind and wait for the facts.

    Rep. Giffords’ glass door was “smashed” last spring, with no determination how it was caused, according to the police as reported to the Arizona Daily Star. Not “shot out.” Did anyone identify the vandal, or his/her political leanings?

    The public is rejecting the last three days’ hyperpartisan political narratives, accusation and speculation. The good sheriff is losing credibility, the media is puzzled by CBS poll results, and NPR seems to be returning to the facts. A discussion of mental health issues and laws will ensue. Nevertheless, the Tuscon shooting will join the parade of right-wing-extremist-caused violent tragedies accepted as fact by the partisan mind. Rep. Giffords might actually find that to be sad.

  12. K Gray says:

    The final irony! Apparently this guy was supremely disconnected from reality; e.g. he couldn’t understand that the number 6 is not the number 18. In his own world, completely removed from the real world. No coherence has emerged so far from any of his communications. No line of reasoning, no cause and effect at all. At all.

    So people have taken a person who exhibits behavior of mental illness and fabricated a cold-hearted, vengeful killer incited by right-wing vitriol to hate Democrat policy/votes so much that he bides his time until an opportune moment to kill a Democrat. What a terrible thing.

  13. K Gray says:

    I can’t substantiate your reference to “Sarah Palin’s rhetoric about gettin’ your Moose gun out and goin’ huntin’ ya some liberals” Do you have a cite?

  14. Lee says:

    Ah, yes, take a poll, and from results which show a rather skewed result based on the way the question was asked, and the addition of other data, and infer that “the public is rejecting” the hyperbole. Specifically, as to whether this particular individual was on a right wing political terror crusade, the general belief of, what, about half of the people questioned is that he wasn’t. But that’s not really the issue related to the political discourse here. There’s not any evidence that Loughner is a left-wing nut case either, though that’s the mantra of the conservative pundits, and has been almost since the shooting. As the President said last night, this has prompted a necessary discussion, including the level of “political vitriol” that currently exists. People are entitled to their opinion, just like 9-11 truthers and Obama birthers, though there is nothing to substantiate either of those positions.

    But judging from the reaction of the audience in Tucson last night, and from the very shrill reaction among the self-appointed political expert radio disc jockeys, there seems to be a lot of fear that “the liberals are going to get away with” something that will be to the political detriment of “their side.” Governor Brewer, Senator McCain and Senator Kyl were politely applauded in Tucson last night, but the ovations that greeted Janet Napolitano, Eric Holder and the President were overwhelming. If I were a Republican politician in Arizona at the moment, I’d be very thankful that the election was in November, and not next Tuesday.

    The moose hunting analogy isn’t a direct quote, if that’s what you were looking for. But the did an excellent job, much better than I could do, in clearly interpreting her imagery.
    http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2010/0327/Sarah-Palin-s-gun-imagery-takes-aim-at-political-targets

  15. Colby says:

    This is a political debate. Giffords raised the issue of the use of rifle crosshairs on Palin’s attack website during the campaign, and it didn’t get a whole lot of attention until she was shot by a nutcase who had apparently been angered by her some time ago, and planned to do something like this for quite some time. Now, the congresswoman’s comments are getting some attention as a result of this incident, though the shooting may or may not have been a direct result of any specific “political rhetoric.” We don’t know, and probably will never know, what prompted Loghner to spray a supermarket parking lot with bullets, taking care to make sure Giffords was his first victim.

    In the course of a response, Palin did a wonderful job of painting herself as a victim as well, in one of the most personalized and self-serving statements I’ve ever heard from a politician (if you can really even call her that). She also did a wonderful job of alienating even more people than she already has. The Obama presidential campaign for re-election in 2012 couldn’t buy the kind of support it will get if she’s anywhere near the possibility of running. If I were his campaign manager, I’d find a way to keep her in the race at all costs.

    http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/antheabutler/4028/palin%E2%80%99s_persecution_complex_culminates_with_%E2%80%9Cblood_libel%E2%80%9D_accusation/