Assassination Attempt: Vitriol and Consequences
I'm not ashamed to admit that when I heard that an Arizona congresswoman had been shot, my first thought was "Please, please don't let the shooter be Hispanic."
Before I became aware that Gabrielle Giffords had earned herself a
cross-haired Sarah Palin seal of disapproval for being in favor of health care
reform and against the Arizona law that is seen around the country as
anti-Latino racial profiling, I was thinking that this was what I had been
fearing since the Dream Act failed in the Senate last month.
You know, that moment when five years of illegal immigrant demonization,
increased hate crimes against Latinos, and the stream of put-downs that cast
all Hispanics as "anchor babies," "invaders,"
"cockroaches" and "rats" finally combined to push some
young illegal immigrant to the brink of unthinkable violence because he or she
literally had nothing left to lose.
The actual facts were a slight relief but no less frightening: The
congresswoman was actually an advocate of strong but cool-headed approaches to
border enforcement. Federal Judge John Roll, who was killed in the fracas, had
previously had his life threatened over his ruling in favor of illegal
immigrant plaintiffs in a high-profile civil rights lawsuit against a local
rancher. But he was just a passer-by.
When I read comments from Jim Gilchrist, founder of the civilian border
patrol Minutemen Project, in which he, too, initially reacted with an "I
just hope it's not someone from my side of the argument," it became
obvious that we'd gone well past the tipping point on immigration-related
vitriol. Latinos have known this for years. Now it is in our national
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik declared what Latinos across the
country have been feeling all year -- that Arizona has become "a mecca for
prejudice and bigotry." He tossed out a political football by deploring
the national "atmosphere of hatred and bigotry" and gave credence to
the power that inflamed rhetoric has to cause real violence with his statement:
"People tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol we hear
inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that.
That may be free speech, but it's not without consequences."
Six dead and 14 fourteen wounded later, the nation is again engaged in
soul-searching about how far is too far when casting political confrontations
as wars between patriot foot soldiers and enemies who deserve no mercy.
It is nothing less than a national disgrace that even though several
Hispanic immigrants have been brutally murdered because of their legal status,
it took the blood of a congresswoman and some of her supporters and bystanders
to make the country stop to consider that political vilification -- whether
over immigration, health care or any other hot topic -- may contribute to
The wake-up call didn't sound loudly enough for those who over the
weekend steadfastly defended their hatred as being fair in the game of
politics. But the connection between venomous partisan shouting matches and the
bloodshed is certainly clear to Roxanna Green, mother of 9-year-old Christina-Taylor
Green, who died Saturday.
Her wish for her daughter's legacy is the same as mine: "I think
there's been a lot of hatred going," Green told reporters, "and it
needs to stop."
© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group