Thoughts on the Arizona Shooting
Gunfire in Gated Communities: The Belated Wake-up Call of the Tucson Tragedy
J.D. Candidate 2012, UCI Law
A year after the Columbine High School massacre, rapper Eminem reflected upon the belatedness of public concern for important issues in his single, “The Way I Am”: “[A] dude’s gettin’ bullied / and shoots up his school / and they blame it on Marilyn [Manson] / and the heroin / Where were the parents at? / And look where it’s at: Middle America / now it’s a tragedy / now it’s so sad to see / an upper class city / having this happening.” To Eminem, class and, implicitly, race affected the amount, if any, of public discourse on certain issues.
Just as in Columbine, Colorado, in Tucson, Arizona, the quantity (6 killed and 13 injured) and identity (the casualties include a congress member, federal judge, and nine-year-old girl) of the victims played a tremendous role in the newsworthiness of the tragedy. School bullying has also prompted a lot of recent media attention and public discourse. But, if Tyler Clementi, who took his own life after his roommate humiliated him through the internet, had attended community college rather than Rutgers University, would his story have garnered national attention? Likewise, would the entire nation have followed the disappearance of Natalee Holloway if she had been a young woman of color?
Why must it take a shooting spree, a suicide, or an international disappearance to begin a meaningful national dialogue about gun control, mental health, and other important domestic issues? Why does “Middle America” serve as the default point of reference? Do we even care about what goes on in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities?
We do not need to hear gunfire in gated communities in order to respond to our collective wake-up call. I hope these recent tragedies have made better listeners out of us all.
Arizona Shooting: Tragic, but Unsurprising
J.D. Candidate 2012, UCI Law
On January 8, 2011, Jared Lee Loughner shot 19 people in front of a Safeway grocery store in Tucson, Arizona. The target, Representative Gabrielle Giffords, miraculously survived a shot to the head. John M. Roll, chief judge of the Arizona district court, and Christina Green, a nine-year-old, were among the six killed. Unquestionably, this was a terrible tragedy. But, I would add, it was not a surprising one.
This past summer, I read a great deal of Arizona headlines. Every morning, I compiled news articles for the Alto Arizona! campaign (AltoArizona.com). At first, the stories I found seemed shocking. I was not accustomed to reading so often about Neo-Nazis and armed vigilante groups. But as time went on, I expected Arizona headlines to be heinous. I grew a thick skin, and eventually I formed a habit of cynically glazing over any headlines containing the word “Arizona.” So on January 8, when “Arizona” was accompanied by “shooting,” “Congresswoman,” and “nine-year-old,” I glazed over the headline and continued with my day. I did not learn the extent of the tragedy until a friend later explained it to me. Several days later, I realized the source of my confusion.
On January 11, Alto Arizona! released a timeline of the growing violence and hate in Arizona. Many of the news stories I read over the summer were included, along with stories dating back as far as 1987. As I scanned those old headlines, three stories jumped out.
In February 2009, Judge Roll received death threats after an initial ruling in favor of a group of undocumented migrants. The case involved an Arizona rancher who detained the group at gunpoint. After a talk radio show publicized the trial, Judge Roll received numerous threats and had to be placed under full-time United States Marshall Service protection for a month. Judge Roll found the special security to be “unnerving and invasive.”
In June 2009, a group of radical Minutemen broke into an immigrant family’s home and killed Raul Flores and his daughter Brisenia Flores. Brisenia was nine years old. The Minutemen group, led by former Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) spokesperson Shawna Forde, later claimed that it was searching for drugs and cash to fund their anti-immigrant organization.
And in March 2010, an unidentified vandal hopped a gated fence to shatter a glass door and window at Gabrielle Giffords’s Tucson office. The window smashing occurred a few hours after Representative Giffords voted for the health care reform bill.
So on January 8, when I read that Representative Giffords had been shot, and that Judge Rolls and a nine-year-old girl had been killed, I was confused. In my mind, I had already read this story. It is the same story that has been unfolding in Arizona for years. It is the story of a state that has sadly become, in the words of Tuscon Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, “the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” In such a state, public massacres are certainly tragic but they are not surprising. So then the question becomes, is Arizona a misfit among states? Or do these events in Arizona simply reflect a national trend?