Thursday, January 13, 2011

Aftermath in Tucson: amid good news, serious questions remain

By now, the horrific events of Saturday, January 8, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona have been spread throughout the news media that they no longer need to be exhaustively rehashed. Now, it is time to move beyond the “what” to both the “why?” and the more important question: “how could this have been prevented?”

The good news is that wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is going to live. In their latest update, her surgeons at University Medical Center in Tucson report that she continues to respond to simple commands and is moving both arms. This latter is the best news yet because it shows that, at a minimum, the motor control region in her left hemisphere (the one that got hit) is in reasonably good condition. Because she is still on a breathing tube as a reasonable precaution she cannot talk. Until it is removed – as it will in time, since she is able to breathe on her own, another positive sign – her physicians will not know the extent to which her left hemisphere speech center has been damaged.

The gunman – Jared Laugher, 22, of Tucson – was subdued at the scene by a quartet of bystanders. On Monday, January 10, in Federal Court in Phoenix, he was arraigned on five federal felonies and ordered held without bail. The arraignment was moved from Tucson when the entire Southern District Court bench recused themselves out of necessity because Southern District Chief Judge John Rolle, a friend of the Congresswoman, died at the scene.

Now the finger pointing and rhetorical jousting has begun, with seemingly everyone pointing their finger at someone as responsible for triggering this event. This continuing negativity has got to stop. Indications are that the gunman was politically independent, so the vitriol from the Conservative Right probably would have had minimal effect on him. At this time, I have seen no indication that investigators have found any compelling links between the gunman and right wing talk shows and groups.

What is emerging, however, is a long-term pattern of unstable behavior in public. Last fall he was asked to leave one of Pima Community College’s campuses because of a pattern of disruptive outbursts in his classes that left his classmates feeling fearful. It is impossible for anyone to make a definitive diagnosis at a distance in a case like this, however, it is clear that he does have problems of some nature. I have a hunch that his motivation was completely non political, which lets right wing commentary off the hook – for now.

At the same time, this needs to be a wake up call to all Americans. Political conversations and commentary have grown way too caustic and fixated on tearing the other side down. The era of violence-suggestive political speech needs to come to an end now, before it encourages another unstable individual to act out the violence being spread by talk show hosts, and far too many politicians.

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