Tucson tragedy will only temporarily halt the language of derision and hate

Posted: Tuesday, January 18, 2011

We are not, nor have we ever been, immune from the disease of senseless violence in this country.

The rich soil of our sacred democracy is fertile ground for those disaffected, disillusioned or deranged individuals who seek to soothe their troubled minds and hearts by destroying someone else.

And as hard as we try, in a free society there is no way we can protect everyone from them. So periodically we must suffer their madness and endure their unspeakable pain, not just as individuals, but as a nation.

We have seen them before, so much so that rarely are we shocked by their precipitous, and sometimes well-thought-out, deeds to inflict harm.

John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald are names we know all too well in American history. We don’t seem to know as much about Charles Julius Guiteau and Leon Czolgosz, although we’re familiar with their dastardly deeds — assassinating Presidents James Garfield and William McKinley, respectively.

Many of us know quite well the names of Byron De La Beckwith, James Earl Ray, Sirhan Sirhan, Charles Manson, Sarah Jane Moore, John Hinckley Jr., Arthur Bremer, Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, just to begin the list of sick souls who targeted innocent people to satisfy their malignant discontent or own self-hatred.

We may be ready to add to that group another hopelessly sad figure, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, who is accused of shooting and severely wounding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., as she held a “Congress on Your Corner” meeting on a Tucson shopping center parking lot. He is suspected in a one-man terror attack that also resulted in the death of a federal judge and five others, and the wounding of 13 more.

Among the dead is 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, a student council member who had gone to the congresswoman’s event to get a lesson in civics and politics. Instead, the girl who was born on 9/11 became part of a tragic event, the likes of which have become too much of a theme in our history curriculum: abject violence in a country that prides itself on peaceful transition of power.

The fact that this deadly melee occurred in Arizona, a hotbed of political discord, and at a time when uncivil speech has become the norm, causes us naturally to want to place blame on those who may have, in the slightest way, influenced the shooter.

While we may never know all of the reasons for Loughner’s cowardly act, we would be naive to dismiss out of hand that the inflamed rhetoric of the past two years much of it coming from our “leaders” and public figures — might have some impact on such an obviously disturbed person.

Those who feed off vitriol ought to be put on notice once again that, to paraphrase Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, words have consequences and those who utter them ought to be prepared to take some responsibility for the actions that follow.

Most of us regard sick acts by deranged people deplorable and antithetical to what this nation is about.

But let us be keenly aware many of those evildoers — like some of those I’ve mentioned above — have their admirers. They are seen by a few — and, I trust, only a few — as some type of unconventional hero deserving of praise.

In light of this most recent tragedy, as several of our fellow citizens lie dead and others cling fragilely to life, we shall put aside our disdainful discourse for a brief season.

Then we shall quickly return to business as usual, with all the derision, hate-filled speech and wanton disrespect we can muster.

Unfortunately, the abnormal has become the “new normal” in America. The lyric, “Land where our fathers died,” has taken on a whole new meaning, as targeted and random violence consistently takes from us not only our fathers, but our mothers, our children, our friends and neighbors.

While we try to fight a war against foreign terrorists, we should also come to grips with the war within being waged by those home-grown terrorists who too often are simply dismissed as “crazy loners” or “disturbed people.”

• Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may write to him at: 400 W. 7th Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102, or via e-mail at bobray@star-telegram.com.

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