Arizona Massacre

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was holding a meet and greet early Saturday morning outside a Tucson Safeway when a gunman opened fire shooting her in the head and firing on the crowd killing 6 and wounding 14. Among those slain were a elderly woman, an elderly couple, a young girl, a staff person from Rep. Giffords’ office and a federal judge.  The Congresswoman underwent emergency surgery and is in critical condition in a drug induced coma at the University Medical Center in Tuscon. The medical team remains cautiously optimistic that she will recover.  My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families. I pray that Congresswoman Giffords and the 13 others wounded recover quickly and fully.

The alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner is now in policy custody after being bravely wrestled to the ground by two men and a woman at the scene of the massacre.  Initially, police had been looking for a possible accomplice but this person of interest turned out to be a taxi driver who drove Loughner to the mall and waited for him while he got change at a nearby convenience store.  It appears that Loughner ultimately acted alone.

How could this have happened?  Though we don’t yet know Loughner’s motives, what has emerged about him reveals a deeply disturbed and confused 23 year old.  On his MySpace page, he listed Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Marx’s Communist Manifesto, Alice and Wonderland and We the Living as among the books he likes.  He had written some incoherent posts about a new U.S. currency, English grammar structure and mind control.  In 2007, he apparently attended a similar event in which he asked Giffords a question and was reported to have told an acquaintance that he was not satisfied with the answer and called her “stupid and unintelligent”.  He described her constituents as “illiterate”.  He himself had been described by classmates as an arrogant loner who didn’t seem to care much about what others thought of him.  He had several run ins with the law for drug and drug paraphernalia possession.  He attended Pima Community College but was ultimately suspended for disruptive behavior, one early warning sign that he might be a danger to others.  The Virginia Tech student assassin had also displayed disturbing behavior in classes that alarmed classmates and professors.

Though it is too early to say definitively whether Loughner had planned to kill the Congresswoman and slay as many constituents as possible, it is not out of the question.  Police have confiscated evidence from Loughner’s  home that reference “my assassination” and found a letter from the Congresswoman’s office thanking him for attending a 2007 meet and greet event.

Whether he had been influenced by all the incendiary rhetoric that has become the norm of political discourse since President Obama was elected is an open question.  He does not seem to have been involved in politics, or aligned with a particular party or party platform – neither a progressive, nor a conservative.  His writings suggest he had become suspicious of government and increasingly agitated, and show a deeply disturbed and confused psychological state bordering on paranoia, but not a lucid political ideology. And as tempting as it would be to say that he is a right-wing nut job, or some sort of budding nihilist, about all we can say responsibly is that we don’t know what his motives were.

Now I strongly support first amendment rights, but firmly believe we must exercise the right of free speech responsibly.  What people say and write matters and as Congresswoman Giffords herself said 10 months ago almost foreshadowing the tragedy, “people need to understand that there are consequences” to extreme rhetoric, yelling and firing people up.  Ironically, Representative Giffords joined along in the reading of the constitution on the House floor last week and drew the task of reading the first amendment aloud which pertains to free speech and the right to peaceful assembly.

Our national political discourse has degenerated to the point where we are coming very close to reaching the limits of protected free speech.
Palin’s cross hairs campaign targeting 20 House Democrats including Rep. Giffords and Sharron Angle’s reference to second amendment remedies have crossed the line in my view.  Bellicose language, politicians shooting guns to kill a bill, comparing President Obama to Hitler, and calling former president George W. Bush a war criminal are other examples of speech that polarize and demonize and do nothing to promote a healthy national dialogue.  It is time to dial it all back a notch and work together with more civility to solve our nation’s problems.  This is what Rep. Giffords called for some 10 months ago and what Congress and Americans can do now to honor the victims of the Arizona  Massacre.

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