Making sense of the tragedy in Tucson this weekend that took six lives and left Representative Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition after being shot in the head is an exercise in futility. But we all are trying so hard, because we don't want it to happen to us. Or to someone we love.
As government officials answer questions about the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, and the victims, most give the facts and offer up thoughts and prayers. But Pima County Sheriff, 75-year-old Clarence Dupnik, has been using press briefings to express his profound disappointment in the current poisonous environment and a broken system in Arizona. And good for him.
Dupnik has been on the police force since his graduation from the University of Arizona in 1958, and the sheriff lost friends that day, so the shooting was personal. But he also recognized the political and wasn't afraid to call out those who incite violence.
"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," he said. "And unfortunately, Arizona ... [has] become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."
You can pretend that nasty words are just "free speech," and act shocked when someone who is clearly mentally ill acts out a visual seen on a website. But you're doing just that: pretending. The reality is, as Dupnik so clearly put it, a lack of gun control combined with hatred and a failure to address mental health make tragedies like this possible. Are these lives worth acting like it's okay to put a target on someone's head?
Whether it's a lack of civility or using threatening language, there is no place for this kind of behavior in political discourse. Sheriff Dupnik understands this, but it's too bad hate-mongers are so slow to grasp their own role when nasty rhetoric devolves into physical violence.
The hate speech needs to stop, today. It's dragging down our national conversation, and encouraging people who are already losing their grasp on right and wrong to pick up a gun and take aim. No American life should be taken because someone else insists on being a nasty person. Get some perspective hate-mongers, and understand your words can be easily interpreted as instructions, not just playground taunting.
Do you agree with Sheriff Dupnik?
Image via Ema-Louisa/Flickr