Monday, January 10, 2011

Our tragic legacy

Last June I was in Scottsdale, Arizona for the American Jewish Press Association's annual conference, the largest gathering of Jewish newspaper editors and writers held each year. At that conference there was an understandable concern with regard to the rhetoric of violence towards political leaders that had been encouraged by self-serving media pundits and political opportunists. If one were to ask me, I would say that the guilty were on both sides of the discussion. The central issue was over the new stop law that had been passed by the Arizona legislature that allows police officers to demand "papers" to certify one's legal status as an American citizen. Political leaders admitted that the entire "immigration" topic had led to threats against their lives on more than one occasion. It came with the territory, they said, but they all expressed disquiet that the easily persuaded might cross over the line in defense of what they might perceive as a loss of liberty or some threat to their civil rights. To tell the truth I thought we had learned that justice never comes out of the barrel of a gun. After 9/11 especially, it was my hope that Americans would learn to stop shooting at one another and take cause against our common enemies and train our weapons on them. The horrific shootings in Tuscon on Saturday are the latest example of what has been our tragic legacy. When Americans seek to make change with their trigger fingers instead of their voting fingers, innocents invariably get in the way. There is no one who can convince me the founding fathers had intended the Constitution should be used as a means to make our country a shooting gallery. The bullets that rang out on Saturday follow those that took four presidents and have left millions of our fellow citizens maimed, crippled, paralyzed, in a vegetative state or dead. Congressman Gabriel "Gabby" Giffords knew of the danger. On more than one occasion she expressed dismay at others who suggested violence as a way to settle differences. Later in life she had accepted her father's Jewish heritage, which also made her a target for racists, bigots and hate groups. Yet, she understood that threat as necessary in a country which prizes liberty above oppression and permits unbridled political discussions without fear of recriminations. But the monster that pulled out that semi-automatic Glock pistol on Saturday showed his cold-blooded cowardice and total lack of compassion when he indiscriminantly rained bullets on the crowd gathered in Tuscon. My heart cries out for the youngest victim, a nine-year-old girl, born in the noon hour on September 11th, whose date of birth inspired her to get involved. Christina-Taylor Green, the granddaughter of baseball great Dallas Green, was first propelled into politics during the Obama presidential run. She and five others are symbols of how a warped, twisted mind filled with hate can inflict horrible suffering that can never be undone. Green, Federal Judge John Roll, Gifford's political assistant and organizer of the event Gabe Zimmerman and three other citizens who got caught in the cross-hairs are gone, while Giffords and 18 others cling to life. It is a sad day for our nation and for those that grieve. I grieve for the victims and I pray for a sense of sanity to begin to prevail in the wake of other tragedies like Columbine and Virginia Tech. In the movie "Godfather II," Michael Corleone's character callously states "If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone." This was true in Caesar's time and sadly has been true in this country that I love since its inception. But I don't like it and especially dislike that the highest ideal of freedom can be warped by an unthinking and callow thug or mental midget bearing a pistol who is intent on changing history or making a name for himself. Woe to us, America. Shame on us that, despite the best efforts of liberty-loving citizens, the legacy of the smoking gun still persists as a way to affect change in this country. There is and can never be an excuse for violence to prevail or we as a bastion for man's civil liberties are doomed as a nation.

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