Arizona shootings pose questions: What do we stand for? What will we stand for?

Posted: Monday, January 17, 2011

Who’s to blame for the act of domestic terrorism at a Tucson shopping center Saturday that killed six people and wounded 14 others, shaking the nation because of its undertones of political assassination?

It’s a question that must be asked — certainly many people have been all-too-ready with answers, and not necessarily rational ones.

But it’s not the only question to ask. And maybe not even the most important one.

Of course, culpability must be established. The shooter must be held accountable for his crimes against society. That’s for the legal system to sort out, in a process that will raise questions of its own.

What the rest of us might ask in the meantime is: How can we take responsibility in the aftermath?

I don’t mean should Sarah Palin be held responsible for putting cross hairs on congressional districts, or should radio and TV ranters be held responsible for spouting extremism that agitates gullible people into intolerance.

What I mean is, How can each of us take responsibility for shaping and reshaping our society to be more civil, more caring, less divisive, less combative?

If we don’t take responsibility, who will?

There’s been lots of finger-pointing and lots of running away from any hint of connection to the damage being attributed to Jared Loughner, the 22-year-old charged with federal counts of murder and attempted murder. Among those killed were U.S. District Judge John Roll and congressional aide Gabriel Zimmerman.

According to reports, Roll went to Mass on Saturday morning, got some coffee and went to see his friend, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was meeting constituents outside a Safeway. Zimmerman worked for Giffords.

The working theory at this point is Loughner took a taxi to the shopping center to assassinate Giffords. What we know is that she was seriously injured by a bullet through the head and many others were shot, indiscriminately it seems.

Even if one deranged man wasn’t sent over the edge by a distressingly noxious political climate, the shock of his actions has caused many people to step back and engage in soul-searching about how we’ve come to this and where we go from here.

It’s a good time to ask ourselves: What do we stand for — and what will we stand for?

But we need to look beyond debates about what speech is tolerable to what kind of society is tolerable and what any of us can do to achieve it.

I keep coming back to the 9-year-old girl who was shot in the chest and killed for no other reason than she was there to meet her congresswoman.

Who can even imagine the anguish of the family friend who took Christina Taylor Green to see Giffords as a learning experience?

Green’s story has resonated because of its sheer tragedy and the irony that she was born on 9/11. She had recently made her First Communion and been elected president of her elementary school student council. Her father and grandfather are well-known in professional baseball.

A 9-year-old minding her own business ought to be safe in this world. The violence that took this child is inexcusable and unacceptable.

But inexcusable violence takes children’s lives all too often. Reports are easy to find: A 9-year-old boy in Marrero, La., shot in his home in November, possibly by a teenage relative. Nine-year-old Clarisma Torrey shot along with other relatives in Harvey, Ill., in October, possibly in a drug-related crime. Nine-year-old Mayia Nelson shot in her family’s minivan in Davie, Fla., in October, possibly in a domestic dispute. Nine-year-old Oscar Fuentes, shot through the door of his family’s Washington, D.C., apartment in November 2009. Nine-year-old Ciara Savage, shot while playing with other children outside her aunt’s house in York, Pa., on Mother’s Day 2009.

It’s unlikely that any of us could stop a single delusional gunman bent on destruction. But what we can do is work to eliminate conditions under which social ills fester into violence: intolerance, poverty, hopelessness, family dysfunction, drug-dealing, oppression and disregard for the humanity of others.

It’s a question of what we stand for — and what we’ll stand for.

• Linda P. Campbell is a columnist and editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may write to her at lcampbell@star-telegram.com.



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