Just before Thanksgiving 2008, driving out of Nevada and through the town of Kingman, Arizona on our relocation from “The Silver State” to “The Valley of the Sun,” one of the first Arizona sights to greet us was a rag-tag group of protesters walking the sidewalk carrying nastily worded signs against newly elected, supposedly incoming-Commie and Socialist President Obama.
Well, I thought to myself, “Welcome to Arizona,” and chalked this assorted collection of self-proclaimed patriots as but another happy expression of our Constitutional rights as Americans to free speech and freedom of assembly.
Yet somewhere in the recesses of my vestigial brain, the demonstrators’ fearsome acrimony left me with foreboding. I was more than pleased to bid “adios, amigos” in my rear view mirror to the Garden Spot of Kingman, former hangout of Oklahoma City bombing co-conspirators Timothy McVeigh and Michael Fortier.
Equal opportunity noxiousness.
But to be clear, I mean no indictment of one community over another, especially when it comes to its fringe-dwellers. After all, there’s nothing particularly more noxious about one desert area and its denizens versus those found in another. No matter where we live, it takes all kinds.
And Arizona’s got nothing on Nevada. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Grand Canyon State has but one more hate group on their Hate Map list than my former Nevada home. Haters respect no boundaries.
Running off at the mouth.
Which takes me to the latest appalling, terrible instance of hate on Saturday, January 8, 2011 in a grocery store parking lot in Tucson, Arizona, a university town heretofore as far removed in open-minded enlightenment as one can find in an otherwise illiberally hidebound badlands.
Too often, our human condition is to run off at the mouth with hastily formed opinions, ahead of the nuisance known as thoughtful deliberation based on sufficient facts. My friends in the defense bar fondly invoke their favorite admonition of “A rush to judgment” when this happens.
So as much as I also want to join the Greek choruses, I resist as much as I can the compelling temptation to do likewise, given so disturbing an affront to our humanity, our decency, our democracy.
Such is the tone of our political, cultural and everyday social discourse anymore that we can scarcely talk to one another without anticipating an off-the-wall shoe to bounce off a conversational wall. Just a few weeks ago, at a cocktail reception, a man I’d just met bragging in one breath about his charity’s compassionate act of providing homes to refugees, infelicitously adds of the recipients “and these are people who are doing it right and who come here only to contribute.” Whether or not we live in the shadow of hate groups, such talk is no longer déclassé among even those we might have once thought beyond such aversions.
These are my initial thoughts following the horrific shooting by alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others along with the murders of U.S. District Judge John Roll, Dorwin Stoddard, 9-year old Christina Taylor Green, Gabe Zimmerman, Dorothy Morris, and Phyllis Schneck.
Was this, as some on the Right are saying, just a horrible isolated instance of a criminally deranged “paranoid schizophrenic“, i.e., “Jared Loughner is crazy. Or meanwhile, on the Left, is this an equally convenient call to angry righteous indignation pointing to the Tucson massacre as the predictable consequence of the extreme Right’s politically-deranged intolerance?
With the massacre so close to the Arizona-Mexico border and bigots running rampant hereabouts, some on the Right might have fervently prayed the gunman was a drug-running Mexican illegal alien. But conversely, on the equally loony side of the Left, some might have hoped the gunman was an assault-rifle toting ‘Tea-Bagger’ gone amok. Who cares about sufficient facts when this is what our political discourse has come to?
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnick, for one, is being criticized for supposedly exploiting the tragedy when he decried our incendiary political rhetoric. But after living here the past 2 plus years and personally witnessing some of “the vitriol” he mentions, it’s regretfully difficult to entirely disagree with most of what he said.
“Are words to blame?” Well, words matter. Many think they have an unfettered license to say whatever they want, regardless of injury, especially when they can do it with a semblance of anonymity and without consequences. And sad to say, it’s not likely to change much, anytime soon, even after what happened Saturday.
Here’s what Sheriff Dupnick said, “When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.
“All I can tell you is that there’s reason to believe that this individual may have a mental issue. And I think that people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol.”