It Happened Here
January 9th, 2011
My city is reeling this morning. Six dead, fourteen injured. Dorwan and Mavanell Stoddard, a retired couple in their seventies, were standing in line at Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s meet-and-greet at a Northwest side Safeway when the shooting started. He’s dead; she was shot in the legs and is expected to recover, physically. Two more retirees, Phyllis Schneck, 79; and Dorothy Morris, 76; are also dead. Third-grader Christina-Taylor Green had recently been elected to student council at Mesa Verde Elementary and went to learn more about government. She, too, is dead. U.S. District Judge John Roll had just said hi when the shooting started. He’s dead. So is a Giffords aide, thirty-year-old Gabe Zimmerman, who was engaged to be married.
Thirteen others, besides Giffords, are wounded. Five, including Giffords, are in critical condition and five are in serious condition. The Red Cross put out a call for blood donations. The area in front of University Medical Center was the site of a candlelight vigil. The flickering flames struggled to remain visible in the glare of television cameras. The intersection of Ina and Oracle, Northwest Tucson’s busiest intersection and site of the shooting, is now open, but the shopping center itself remains sealed off.
Everyone says this sort of thing doesn’t happen here. People say that everywhere this sort of thing happens.
There’s more focus this morning on local media on Jared Loughner’s mental state. The picture that emerges from people who knew him confirms what I noticed yesterday; the man had struggled with serious mental problems. He had been expelled from Pima Community College, and barred from coming back unless he underwent psychological evaluation and obtained certification that he was not a threat to others. Obviously, he never obtained that certification.
There are a lot of blogs trying to pin this on tea party politics. I do believe that the rhetoric that animates the tea party and now infects Fox News and much of mainstream Republicanism is extremely dangerous and is quite capable of stoking violence like this. But the more we learn about Loughner, the more it appears that this hateful rhetoric had little influence on Loughner’s motive. None of his rambling writings reference conservative or tea party politics. Instead, he accuses the government of mind control and brainwashing by controlling grammar. As I wrote yesterday, he is clearly struggling to make sense of reality, a common problem with people with schizophrenia.
There is, however, a second person of interest. Police are looking for a 40- to 50- year old man who is believed to have been at that Safeway with Loughner. So that part of the story clearly isn’t a closed book. And it still doesn’t diminish what Pima County sheriff Clarence Dupnik said at yesterday’s news conference.
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.
“It’s not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. And that’s the sad thing of what’s going on in America. Pretty soon, we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serve in public office.
Whatever may or may not have motivate Loughner, I think Dupnic has it right: Arizona has become a “sort of the capital” for prejudice and bigotry. I have never seen a more rapid decline in the political climate anywhere. State politics here is turning resident against resident, citizen against citizen. Hours after Giffords’s health care vote, her office was vandalized. At a similar Giffords meet-and-greet last August, police carted away someone whose pistol had fallen out of his holster before he was able to approach Giffords. Private Minutemen militias kill American citizens near the border, and suspicious white powder shows up at Rep. Raul Grijalva’s office. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.
Yesterday, as my partner and I were leaving a Home Depot about a mile south of the shooting, we overheard a man on a cell phone telling someone to stay indoors because someone is shooting. We hadn’t heard anything and just assumed he was talking about something happening somewhere else. Things like that don’t happen here. But now we know it does. And unless we all examine our consciences, worse will happen, not by someone who is mentally ill but by someone who has his wits about him and is capable of doing even more harm.