By Ben Spielberg and M. Alexander
Arizona Shooting: Some are Guilty and All Are Responsible
They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
—Pastor Martin Niemoller
This weekend, a 22-year old man named Jared Lee Loughner, a community college student, went on a shooting spree in Tucson, Arizona where U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was holding a meeting. His target was Giffords, but instead he injured her, along with 13 other civilians, and killed 6.
The man is clearly deranged—his own YouTube channel had videos of him dissecting the semantics of the word “terrorist” and ranting and raving about his teachers’ grammar. The woman he was attempting to kill, Gabrielle Giffords is a Jewish, democratic representative of the state of Arizona. Instead, the gunman killed six innocent men and women, including a 9-year-old girl and a 79-year-old woman.
When asked about the shooting, Rabbi Mark Borovitz said, “This weekend’s tragedy proves that in a climate of negativity and vitriol, anything can happen. Like the 60’s when there were numerous assassinations, people think that they can say anything and then deny any culpability…we have to stop the hate speech, the lies and innuendos, the “cross hairs” talk, etc. Evil flourishes when good people do nothing. Now is the time for all good people to say no to the evil speech masquerading as free speech.” As Rabbi Heschel said “in a free society some are guilty and all are responsible”.
So the question becomes, how do we distinguish between free speech and evil speech; how do we take responsibility for the latter while allowing the former to flourish? The United States says that speech can only be limited when it incites imminent danger. It has become difficult in the Internet age to find and prosecute all of the people blogging and YouTubing messages of hate and violence. It has to start at the micro-level. Last night, I heard a bunch of guys talking about another resident at Beit T’shuvah. It began with pointing out his flaws, but then mob mentality kicked in and he began to be abused. I stepped in and said that it had gone too far. While I may not like him, he does not deserve to be singled out and torn to pieces. Can we not try to look at him with compassion?
This is only one small step, but I took responsibility for a situation that had gone too far. We all may have once stood by and done nothing in the face of evil, but it is not too late to make T’shuvah, to seek redemption. I will no longer stand idly by the blood of my brothers.
How have you stopped evil speech? How can we make sure nothing like this does not happen in our free society?