Arizona

Is this where we really are?

A troubled young man, Jared Lee Loughner, is in custody for opening fire at a community event for Arizona Representative Gabrielle Gifford. Her condition is precarious; others were wounded as well. Six people were killed: John Roll, 63, a federal district court judge; Gabriel Zimmerman, 30, Giffords’ director of community outreach; Dorwin Stoddard, 76, a pastor at Mountain Ave. Church of Christ; Christina Greene, 9, a student at Mesa Verde Elementary; Dorothy Murray, 76; and Phyllis Scheck, 79.

Yes. This is where we really are. Rhetoric has turned to bullets.

It would be easy, in the days ahead, to blame Loughner alone; his online postings and what is public about his school history already render him ostracizable for being mentally unstable.

And that easy road will help us keep walking inexorably toward the next shooting, because it will indicate once again a failure to take responsibility: for our words and the culture they create, for our young people who are struggling to make a life, for our access to weapons we use to harm ourselves and others. Do these seem disparate topics? They collided in Arizona. They will collide again, until each of them is dealt with more responsibly, compassionately, effectively, productively.

I didn’t know anything about Representative Gifford before the shooting. I have learned that she is an opponent of Arizona’s immigration laws; I would be, too. The Jesus I follow was himself an undocumented immigrant; his family fled with him shortly after his birth into Egypt, out of fear of Herod’s reprisals against this infant some were calling the new King of the Jews. The Bible I read says “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 10:33-34)

I don’t know if Loughner knew Rep. Gifford’s stance on immigration; I don’t know what part of his knowledge contributed to his violence against her and others gathered near her. I do know others were demonizing Rep. Gifford for this and other stances. Quick-moving Internet sleuths have noticed and documented the removal from the Web of some of the keenest and most violent commentary. As Matt Bai points out in his nytimes.com piece:

Within minutes of the first reports Saturday that Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, and a score of people with her had been shot in Tucson, pages began disappearing from the Web. One was Sarah Palin’s infamous “cross hairs” map from last year, which showed a series of contested Congressional districts, including Ms. Giffords’s, with gun targets trained on them. Another was from Daily Kos, the liberal blog, where one of the congresswoman’s apparently liberal constituents declared her “dead to me” after Ms. Giffords voted against Nancy Pelosi in House leadership elections last week.

I’m sitting with the realization this morning that Ms. Gifford has been attacked for views I share, in part because of my religious beliefs. Her commitment to them is more public. The price she and others paid yesterday — for … what? — is far higher.

But this tenuous connection, and the outsized violence perpetrated, reminds me that the nation we are all creating together is our joint responsibility. It’s too easy for me to point the finger at violent political rhetoric. What silence of mine is leaving room for these words? It’s too easy for me to say, “That young man was mentally unstable.” What am I doing to address the shameful lack of mental health care in our country, and the stigma associated with mental illness? It’s too easy for me to say, “He should never have been able to get his hand on a gun.” What am I doing about getting guns out of hands they don’t need to be in?

This is our national rhetoric. These are our people, killing and being killed. We are responsible. We can make the changes that need to be made, starting with our words … the ones that are creating our reality.

My prayers this morning are for all the fallen: dead, injured, in custody, and their families and communities. And for me in my communities; let us do more for the world we want.

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