Tragedy in Tucson (about 5 miles from my house)

My first thought upon hearing the news was terror. One of my dearest friend’s wife (also a dear friend) is active in the local Democratic party and would be very likely to be at the event this morning. He would likely be there too. To make matters worse, the Safeway is across the street from their house. I called him, he’s home sick and she’s at a Democratic party meeting but not at the event. Great relief.

Back to the TV. They report Giffords is dead. I call my wife, who is in Mexico visiting her parents. We talk for 30 seconds. I break down not even realizing that the line has gone dead. I’m sitting there crying into the phone thinking I’m talking to my wife and the phone rings. I realize the line cut out and get a little laugh. I’ve got it back together and we’re talking. She works in the hospital and has experience with the trauma team. Her thoughts are on what’s happening in the hospital so we’re talking about that. TV reports that Gabby is alive…

We moved to Tucson in Oct 2007. I have voted, proudly, for Gabby Giffords for Congress twice, in 2008 and 2010. In 2008 she won easily. 2010 was a real fight. I have not met Gabby. I feel like I know her well. I have emailed her many times. She has answered my emails personally on a few occasions. She once encouraged me to keep up the work we are doing in the lab (I was emailing her about NIH funding). That meant a great deal to me. When I first came to Tucson, one of the first things I learned about the community was our wonderful rep, Gabby Giffords. Another of my colleagues is very active in the party and has met her a couple of times. He thinks the world of her and told me as much when I mentioned my interest in politics. I get Gabby’s emails on Congressional goings-on. They are always information filled and she presents her views on topics in a very clear manner. I have always been proud to have her as a representative. I hope to continue to be represented by her.

… The TV says that Gabby is in surgery and that she has been shot through the head. A few minutes later Dr Peter Rhee comes on in the UMC press conference and says that she is alive and that he is optimistic about her surviving. This is good news. I see Dr. Rhee around the hospital pretty frequently. He’s an intense guy. My clinical colleagues love him. Apparently he’s as good as it gets. In fact, the whole trauma team is. I know this also because my wife did a rotation with the trauma team. It seemed to have been one of the best clinical experiences of her life. Her goal is to work with that team (she’s applying for a position that opened last week). I know Gabby’s in good hands. Despite the tragedy, I’m very proud of the place where I work.

As the day wears on the shock goes away and the anger (if that’s the right word) sets in. This is not the community I thought I was joining when I moved here three years ago. It hasn’t been that community for quite some time. The Pima County Sherif is right, Arizona has become a place of great anger and bigotry. My wife and I want to have a family. This is not, currently, the place where I would like to raise that family. There is great bigotry toward Mexicans and Mexican-Americans here. Our child will be a Mexican-American. How can we live here? There are guns everywhere here. The state government has made laws that make owning a gun as easy as buying a stick of chewing gum. People open carry into family restaurants here. Not too long ago we were in a local, neighborhood eatery and some guys walked in carrying their guns like badges of courage. They were, in fact, cowards bent on intimidating their neighbors. At another restaurant we thought we overheard someone calling my wife a wetback. I wanted to confront them but we weren’t sure we heard clearly. I should have said something. The person that ran against Gabby in the 2010 election held all sorts of events at shooting ranges. What type of image is that? And he almost won.

Not too long ago I was driving back from Phoenix, by myself, at night. I turned on AM radio to keep myself awake. There was nothing but right wing hate on. I listened for a while. I was sleepy. I have never heard anything like it before in my life. Most of it was local. Shock-jocks from Phoenix spewing conspiracy and hate. Guns, guns, guns. No taxes, no taxes, no taxes. Obama’s a muslim, Obama’s a socialist, Obama’s a terrorist. I wanted to vomit. I turned it off. I wasn’t that sleepy after all.

I’m a liberal. Always have been. I grew up in conservative Dallas. All my friends there are Republicans (well, not all, but most). We disagree with each other on politics. We get along just fine in real life. I thought that moving to another conservative place would be like living in Dallas again. Its not. There is real hate here. During the 2008 election I was rearranging my Obama for President signs (I was quite proud of my signs) and my neighbor accosted me in my own front yard about evil Obama.

I called my Mom this afternoon to clear my mind. I told her most of this. We’d talked about it before but I don’t think she’d ever realized just how crazy things have become here. I tried to explain to her that unless you live in Arizona its hard to understand just how extreme some of the views here have become. On TV everyone’s talking about Palin and Beck and all the wackjobs on national radio. I’m telling you, it runs much deeper than that here. You can carry guns into bars here. That’s endemic lunacy.

There is a candlelight vigil going on down the street at the hospital. There are a lot of people there. People are also gathered at Gabby’s office but they are across the street because there was a bomb scare. I hope this community pulls together and overcomes this with a real effort to squelch the hate and bigotry.

I don’t know Gabby but she’s a friend of mine. I hope to vote for her in 2012.


29 responses to “Tragedy in Tucson (about 5 miles from my house)

  1. I fear that the difference is not Dallas to Arizona but rather the elapsed years and what has occurred in that interval. Naturally it is Obama and what he represents that has brought us to this peak of explosive, hateful and violent rhetoric. “second Amendment remedies”, they cry.

  2. You may be right but I’m still in Dallas alot and feel that the two places are fundamentally different in many respects. Value of education is one of them. Understanding the difference between rights afforded by the second amendment and public safety is another. Then again, I’m somewhat insulated when in Dallas so you’re probably right. I do think, though, that its hard to understand just how vitriolic things have become here unless you live here. Its scary.

    There is a second person on the loose from today, btw, and there are sirens going off everywhere around here now and the helicopter is overhead. I do not like this one bit.

  3. I have no idea what’s happened to my home state. But I hope this tragedy saves it.

    Good luck down there, and if you need a refuge in Seattle, you let me know.

  4. Another gunman? Cripes. Stay safe homes.

  5. “You can carry guns into bars here. That’s endemic lunacy.”

    If I were to move to the US, I would not like it to be to a state where this is permitted. So how endemic is it for Arizona?

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  7. Thank you for the post. Stay safe in a violent land.

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  9. I have to say that that it is no use ‘hoping’ for things to get better, those who reject violence and cherish the liberal values that America once stood for need to become organized or things will only become much worse. America is falling into a serious state of disrepair – not because of Obama, but because American liberals have allowed the political class to merge with corporate interests and the result is gross injustice. The ill-informed are reacting with hate because they are fed a serious of illusions by Fox and other corporate media. Basically the liberal class has completely gutted its traditional role, has merged with big finance and big business – and what you have a descent into both violence and totalitarianism.

    • American conservatives are equally guilty. The politics in america is a joke. It is all about who gets paid how much, not whats best for us as a country or even as seperate states. It is plain ridiculous, while our nation decays and fails slowly before our eyes, and we only care about blaming dems or republicans, and glenn beck and sarah palin and obama…. its our fault we elect these people, we allow them to create these laws, we allow them to stay in office after creating the BS laws…. to get America back we have to be a united people again. United to stand for freedom. I know it seems that most people only want to inflict their opinions of how it should be on everyone. America was neither liberal nor conservative when she bgan. She was FREE. America is supposed to be about each of us having our own freedoms, to carry our gun, to read our bible, to speak against god, to speak against guns. Thats why america worked in the first place, we could have differences of opinion and still get along, because its about the greater good and freedom, not who is right for their opinions and beliefs of how society should run ideally.

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  11. Thank you for this – it is an excellent post in so many ways, giving a snapshot of your shock and terror as the events unfolded yesterday, of the febrile political culture in Arizona where racism thrives, a notion of what a fantastic public servant Gabrielle Giffords has been, of the reality of guns being readily available.

    I live in Scotland and until our election in May last year I had spent 4 years working for a Member of Parliament who had the same sort of philosophy as Gabrielle Giffords. The absolute best part of the job was being out there meeting the people, finding out what their concerns were and trying to do something to help. You can tell from Congresswoman Gifford’s Twitter that she loved her job and her actions in Washington were grounded by what she learned and saw from the people she represents.

    The sort of violent metaphors used by Sarah Palin – and we’ve seen similar over here, where during recent protests effigies of our Deputy Prime Minister were hanged – have no place in reasoned, political debate. Politicians everywhere need to think very carefully about how they frame the arguments. Robust analysis of policy is fine, but they have gone way too far.

    As a mum to an 11 year old, who remembers what it was like to be 9 years old and interested in politics, I feel heartbroken for the little girl’s parents and family and for everyone else whose lives have been thrown into turmoil by this act of violence.

    I so hope that Congresswoman Giffords recovers and you do get the chance to vote her in with a huge majority in 2012.

    I also hope that these appalling events will not make politicians retreat from their constituents. These events are so very rare and it would be wrong for an important part of the democratic process to be compromised.

  12. The shooter, Jared Loughner is not some right winger, as you well know. His information was found on the web within a few minutes of his name being released. He’s no right winger, he’s no member of the tea party, he’s a rabid leftist, like you. He wasn’t anti-immigrant, in fact he was pro-open borders and amnesty, and like you, extremely anti-America. His myspace and youtube accounts revealed he was a hardcore Marxist, his favorite book was Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, and like you, he’s anti-Semitic, and like so many on the left, inspired by their terrorist allies, who have been encouraging people to read Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He had posted a video burning the American flag. In fact, ABC News, tracked down a classmate of Loughner’s, who confirmed that he was a “radical leftist”, as well as a drug user and who had become a loner. He wasn’t a gun nut, in fact he didn’t hang out at Walmart or gun shops, he hung out in book shops with other radical leftists, and dreamed of destroying the US. He is on record as having written that he’d met Giffords and considered her “stupid” because she was pro-gun, and pro-life, and wasn’t supportive of extremist leftist ideology, and that she hadn’t voted for Nancy Pelosi. Like the rest of the left, he despised blue dog democrats, of which Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was one.

    In fact, Markos of Daily Kos had put a bullseye target on Giffords during the last election, though you won’t see the left addressing that. Or that the DLC had put bullseye targets on republican districts and states on a map.

    What I see, is a sick, twisted, depraved person like you, seeking to exploit this awful tragedy for political ideology, completely disrespecting human life, all for personal profit. You are a disgrace.

    • Junior Prof's student

      Thanks for a great laugh Mary! Thank you for displaying the exact type of hateful intolerance that the author points out in this article. Your idols Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh would be so proud. This author did not insist on right wing political rhetoric being responsible for this tragedy. He simply states his fear of living amongst gun worshiping, intolerant extremists. The “Personality Profile” of him which you have so elaborately discussed is only a reflection of your own delusions. Your black and white state of mind which is devoid of any intellect is quite frankly a little scary!

      • Juniorprof’s student?!? I suppose this was bound to happen eventually since I de-pseuded myself

  13. JP,
    Not a whole lot to say but wish you all well, man. I feared that the overall hate rhetoric would result in something like this. And I agree with you that some places are different from others in their overall acceptance and enforcement of the hate rhetoric— I live in the “heart”land and can confirm that there are large pockets here that are quite heartless…
    Anyway, hope Rep Giffords makes it back to good health and that you guys stay safe.
    And Mary, that’s some fine conservative style hatin’ right there that you put out… I’m sure Jesus would be proud…

  14. @Mary: “he’s a rabid leftist, like you. He wasn’t anti-immigrant, in fact he was pro-open borders and amnesty, and like you, extremely anti-America. His myspace and youtube accounts revealed he was a hardcore Marxist, his favorite book was Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, and like you, he’s anti-Semitic, and like so many on the left, inspired by their terrorist allies, who have been encouraging people to read Hitler’s Mein Kampf. ”


  15. JP, thanks for sharing. What happened was horrific. I also hope you have the chance to vote for Gabby again.

    @Mary: I second Namnezia’s WTF?!?!! If hate and violence is repetitively yelled in the public arena, it shouldn’t surprise anyone when the actions follow.

  16. Juniper Shoemaker


    “What I see, is a sick, twisted, depraved person like you, seeking to exploit this awful tragedy for political ideology”. Uh, hypocritical much? Your screed was an endorsement of your political ideology. Worse, it’s not even correct. It’s merely a rabidly unimaginative and poorly written interpretation of yesterday’s tragedy that casts your political ideology in a favorable light.

    Jared Laughner was a nut who swung in the wind. Neither “right” nor “left” applies as a label for his motivations. Like many products of today’s anti-intellectual culture, he wrote incoherent pronouncements that indicate a susceptibility to the inflammatory political rhetoric of the moment. Right now, I’m flipping through various reports that do not suggest otherwise: Laughner rails against “illegal teachers”, “the illegal authority” of “their constitution”, government-issued currency, water fluoridation and the denial of his “civil rights” by the government. Here is one of those reports, which is in the Arizona Daily Star.

    Incidentally, do all of Laughner’s complaints sound “leftist” to you?
    What does “leftist” even mean in a country where pundits insist that both communism and fascism are left-wing ideologies? Jesus must be proud!

    Laughner simultaneously named The Communist Manifesto, a book of far-left ideology, and Mein Kampf, a book of, yes, far-right ideology, as favorites of his. Moreover, he named a number of other books as favorites, including Brave New World and To Kill a Mockingbird. Half of this shit is stuff they make you read in middle-school English classes. Anyone who swears that Laughner’s list of favorite books is incontrovertible proof of a given political philosophy is either a liar or a moron. You don’t even know why these were favorite books of his! Hell, one of my favorite books is Atlas Shrugged. Does that make me an Objectivist? I’ll make it easy for you, Mary: I’m not an Objectivist.

    I was going to write some more about how full of fail you are (JuniorProf, anti-Semetic! LOL! Do words have no meaning to you?), but I have better shit to do. Yesterday was disgusting. It is disgusting to me, the way that human beings treat other human beings. And JuniorProf is right about several things:

    1. At this moment in American history, there are far more right-wing pundits and activists calling for violence than there are left-wing ones. That’s possible because there’s no law in the universe that dictates that all political movements are equally wrong at all times. (It’s funny how that works. If I said, “At the time of Russia’s Communist Revolution, there were far more left-wing pundits and activists calling for violence than there were right-wing ones,” I am certain that most “conservative” Americans would agree without batting an eyelash!) This is true regardless of Laughner’s motivations.

    2. There is a lot of hostility toward Mexicans and Mexican Americans right now. It’s the 1840s all over again, except the Know-Nothings are targeting Mexicans instead of Germans and Irish. And this is true regardless of Laughner’s motivations.

    3. Arizona contains a lot of anger and guns. Honestly, though, I’m beginning to think that all the states in the bloody Union are getting as bad as the next. My home state of California contains a lot of anger and guns. And we’re guilty of the nonpareil disgrace of Proposition 8.

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  18. I think it is sad that Mary would spend a dozen minutes typing out a hateful, mindless rant in response to heartfelt post on a, sorry, pretty obscure science blog. Get a hobby Mary, the internet isn’t always your friend.

  19. nobody, that’s exactly what I was thinking.

  20. @mary I find it hard to comprehend how you could respond with such anger to such a measured and wise post.

    How on earth you could accuse JuniorProf of being anti semitic is completely beyond me. Apart from anything else, he speaks at some length about how fabulous a public servant the Jewish Gabrielle Giffords is.

    Here in the UK, left wing students were hanging effigies of the leader of my party, the Deputy Prime Minister. Violent rhetoric, whoever it comes from, has no place in politics.

  21. Great, heartfelt post. I agree the increasingly pro-violent rhetoric is pushing us towards this dangerous precipice. But I think it’s important not to conflate a gun culture with a shooting incident. Juniper Shoemaker couldn’t be more wrong about California and gun laws, the state could not be more different from its Arizona neighbor. There are a LOT of restricted weapons in California, and new gun laws every year mean more and more is restricted, and not necessarily in a way that quells violence. Anti-gun laws for the sake of anti-gun laws.

    The shooter in this case was someone who went and purchased the gun not too long before the shooting. Would the waiting period and state and federal background checks that occur in other states have changed anything? Maybe, but possibly not. This wasn’t somebody who carried a concealed weapon around all the time, this was somebody who went about to obtain a gun and likely even with very strict laws would not have had much trouble to do so. I think gun regulation laws are extremely important, but it’s also important we make sure those laws are in the best interests of law enforcement in actually keeping guns out of the hands of criminals or potential criminals rather than making it the same for them but harder for citizens. I agree the pro-gun culture in Arizona is over the top, but also important we recognize it as a reflection of our culture not a driving factor and focus our efforts for change accordingly.

  22. Juniper Shoemaker

    Juniper Shoemaker couldn’t be more wrong about California and gun laws

    Show me where in my post I said anything about gun laws, and then come back and criticize me like that.

  23. Greets people thanks for post really helped me

  24. JP,

    Sorry this comment is a little late. The events in Tuscon, both with respect to the shootings and your own personal experiences, are sad and frightening. I hope that things will change for the better, but I fear that in a few weeks this will all be forgotten and the march forward towards a new dark age will continue. I guess it is up to all of us to become/remain politically involved, even if we’ve moved north of the border.

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