By now, you’ve heard the awful news. A gunman opened fire in a Tucson, Arizona mall earlier this morning. Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is among the 14 wounded (early media reports of her death, thankfully, were wrong).
Sadly, neither John Roll nor Gabe Zimmerman were so lucky. Roll, a Federal Judge and friend of the Arizona Democrat, and Zimmerman, who was hired by Giffords to head up community outreach in her district, were among the unfortunate six who suffered fatal gunshot wounds. (A 9-year-old child has also died from the tragedy. The complete list of casualties is here.)
Giffords, an elected official for 4 years, was participating in a public event she called Congress On Your Corner outside the Safeway grocery store when a man in his 20s pulled out a semi-automatic weapon and opened fire directly at her head. He also shot numerous bystanders. When he ran out of bullets, he tried to flee the scene but was tackled by two people. He’s currently in police custody.
Giffords was sent to a nearby hospital and underwent emergency surgery. As of this writing, she remains in critical condition but has reportedly responded well to doctors’ commands. Dr. Peter Rhee, who oversaw the operation of the Arizona Congresswoman, noted in a press conference that a bullet had gone right through her brain. Despite that, he noted, “I’m optimistic about [her] recovery,” an amazing statement considering how rare it is to come back full strength from this kind of severe injury. I hope she beats the odds. (I hope the other wounded victims survive their injuries, as well.)
All of this leads to the obvious question: why were Giffords and Judge Roll targetted for assassination? The answer may lie with Jared Lee Loughner, one of two alleged suspects in the case. (Police believe he had an accomplice but have not identified him.) But it may also lie with recent history.
As the heroic Media Matters For America documented last October, it’s simply not safe to be an elected Democratic official these days. Death threats, vandalism and physical violence by extreme right-wing opponents are becoming more commonplace, a scary realization. In fact, if you scroll down the above link, you’ll find a short notice about an incident that took place last March.
As the health care reform vote was happening, someone broke an office window and damaged the front door of a newly elected official who was supportive of the legislation. (Thankfully, no one was there at the time.) Who was the politician targetted on this occasion? Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The even scarier part of all this? Three other offices in two other states were similiarly vandalized in the same weekend.
Also, in 2009, a gun was left behind at a political town hall meeting. Who was the elected official taking questions from constituents that day? Congresswoman Giffords.
Ever since Barack Obama became The American President, there has been an enormous amount of inflammatory rhetoric flung in his and our general directions by hyper-partisan media conservatives and ambitious Republican politicians. Fox News, The Washington Times, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and Sharron Angle are just a handful of examples. Their purpose is unmistakable: to thoroughly discredit his Presidency, completely thwart his agenda and have him replaced with someone more in line with their ideological leanings.
This is why you hear bogus stories about his Muslim heritage (Obama’s really a Christian, not there would be anything wrong with being a Muslim in the first place), his dangerous socialistic tendencies (ironically, he’s more of a disappointing conservative, in my view) and his refusal to show his birth certificate (he has shown it; he was born in Hawaii). And it’s also why you have an irresponsible imbecile like Glenn Beck ranting and raving on his TV and radio programs about how Americans should fear for their lives because of their Democratic President and his destructive policies.
You know, if he was talking about the foolhardy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the endless and pointless Drug War or the lack of transparency Obama promised upon taking office among other real matters of concern, he’d have a point. But he never talks about actual issues like these and neither do his colleagues. The dangers they talk about don’t actually exist. Unfortunately, a good number of their supporters believe in their repetitive nonsense, a growing number of whom are taking matters into their own hands. (To be fair, we have no real motive for the Arizona killings thus far.)
Why has Giffords been a target in the past? Because she was against Arizona’s controversial immigration bill and supported health care reform. What about Judge Roll? Why was he an enemy of the far right? According to this, he allowed a lawsuit by illegal immigrants to proceed and as a result, because of hundreds of threats he had received, he needed extra protection for himself and his family.
And now he’s dead and she’s got a long road to recovery.
But there’s even something sadder and more frightening than the damage caused by those flying bullets. This tragedy, like many before it, won’t change anything. Despite predictable pleas from reasonable people to the aforementioned broadcasters and politicians to stop whipping vulnerable citizens into an uncontrollable frenzy, despite delays in political activity (House Republicans won’t get to repeal health care reform, at least not this week), and despite the likelihood of a temporary media cooldown, before you know it, the dishonest anti-liberal rhetoric will re-heat again until it reaches the next boiling point.
The indispensible Eric Boehlert, over at Media Matters For America, said it best this past October:
“We’re going to see more attempts at vigilante violence during the Age of Obama simply because the right-wing media, led by Beck, continue to stoke dangerous fires with relentlessly incendiary rhetoric and irresponsible back-to-the-wall scenarios…”
Unless there’s a peaceful yet forceful movement to hold them accountable for their chronic dishonesty, nothing will change. Not even another tragedy will stop their momentum.
Either way, what a horrible way to start the New Year.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, January 9, 2011
UPDATE: The New York Times reports that the possibility of a second suspect has been eliminated and that Congresswoman Giffords remains in critical condition. ABC News reveals that she’s currently in a medically-induced coma to preserve her brain. Her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, has released a statement thanking the public for their support and urging donations to his wife’s two favourite charities.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, January 10, 2011