I wasn’t sure what I was going to write today, but something terrible happened today in Tucson, Arizona. We had the TV off most of the day, so you’ve probably had the details of the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords longer than me. As the Congresswoman appeared at a meet and greet outside a Safeway store, a gunman appeared behind her, shot her point blank in the head and turned his gun on the crowd. Nineteen people were shot, including several members of Giffords’ staff. One staffer was killed, as was John Roll, a Federal judge. The third fatality whose name I know was a nine year-old girl, Christina Taylor Greene, born on September 11, 2001. By some miracle, Giffords looks like she’s going to survive. The gunman was subdued and taken into custody, and at last reports, police were searching for an accomplice.
Naturally, my prayers go out to the victims of this terrorist act and their families.
Principle is hard at a time like this. Part of me wants this shooter dead, but I’m against the death penalty.
Part of me want to rage against the politics of anger and hatred that renders false any expression of shock that something like this could happen in America. But wouldn’t my rage simply add fuel to the fire?
Part of me wants the justice department to come down on this guy and any accomplices, any one who aided him in even the smallest way, with God’s own wrath, kicking down doors and firing teargas heedless of any comparisons to Ruby Ridge and Waco. This is harder to simply dismiss. I want this investigated to the fullest extent of the law. I want justice, but I want it done fully within in the constraints of the law. But I don’t want another Waco. I don’t want more kids like Christina Greene to get caught in the crossfire.
But who am I to demand justice? I’m just a guy sitting on a couch a thousand miles away. Rep. Giffords is not my representative. I don’t know the victims? How have I been wronged? Where is my standing?
My standing is the same as yours. You may notice that I have not made any reference to Rep. Giffords’ party. I don’t know who appointed Judge Roll. That’s deliberate. It’s deliberate because this attack was an attack on each and every American. It was an attack on the diversity of ideas that make this nation great. It was an attack on the very notion that I can sit here and voice my liberal views without fear of violence or retribution. It was an attack on the notion that a conservative could do the same in the same safety. That’s why this gunman and any and all of his accomplices needs to be brought to justice.
But something more important needs to happen. We as a nation need to change course. We must relearn how to agree to disagree. We must relearn that liberal does not equate with Communist and conservative does not equate with Nazi.
That does not mean that we need to abandon our deeply held opinions. It does not mean that we need to stand down from our causes. It does mean that we need to see one another as fellow Americans, as fellow human beings. We must respect while we disagree, and we must, from every position on the political spectrum, speak out against violent extremism everywhere, but especially here in America where we are blessed with the ability to enact change with ballots rather than bullets.
There are a lot of things that can be said, that have been said, and that will be said about today’s events and what led up to the shooting. We can choose to run to our partisan baricades and blame the other. Or we can choose to realize that we need to tone down the rhetoric and see each other as humans.
But those are choices for tomorrow. Tonight, there are 19 families whose world has been changed for ever. There are six families who will never get be complete again. There’s a member of Congress and her staff for whom simply going to work will require acts of supreme courage. And there’s a family moruning a little girl whose life began in the shadow of terror and ended in its grip. Tonight, those families need our prayers and for a nation to overcome the divisions that led to this tragedy and to unite in the solidarity of a commitment to stand against hatred and extremism.