Arizona Shooting: Some are Guilty and All Are Responsible

Gabrielle Giffords - 2009
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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?

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11 thoughts on “Arizona Shooting: Some are Guilty and All Are Responsible

  1. Can someone please define “Evil” or “Hate” speech for me. Is calling Obama a socialist “hate speech?” Is calling the tea party racist “evil speech?” Is speaking out against Obamacare hate speech? I think we need to be very careful how we respond to this horrific crime. The 1st amendment and the free exchange of ideas are vital to the health of our Democracy. There is absolutely no evidence that the killer was motivated by any political figures or ideas. All the evidence points to him being a very mentally disturbed individual–most likely paranoid schizophrenic. He had 5 run ins with police at his University before he was kicked out. The one thing we can learn from this tragedy is that mentally disturbed people should not be allowed to buy guns and should be committed to asylums.

  2. I agree with you that “hate” speech is incredibly difficult to define. I do not try to define it for everybody nor am I saying that it should be illegal to call Obama a socialist or the Tea Party “racist”. We all must use our internal moral compass and not stand idly by the speech that we deem to be evil. We need to fight words with our own words and hopefully Truth will rise to the top and Goodness will emerge from the cacophonous conflux of political punditry.

    Michael Soter

  3. This tragedy was not caused by vitriolic speech, of which there is no shortage from either the left or right. It was caused by an undiagnosed mentally ill person.

    These are always the ones that are responsible for these kinds of shooting sprees and they never have anything to do with politics or talkers on television or radio.

    It’s too simplistic to try to blame it on anyone other than the poor mental health system in this country. It is the philosophy and policy that these sick people should not be in mental institutions () wwhich began to be implemented in the 1960shich is at fault if anything is to to be blamed.

    1. The last section of what I wrote got a little garbled. It should have been as follows:

      It’s too simplistic to try to blame it on anyone other than the poor mental health system in this country. It is the philosophy and policy that these sick people should not be in mental institutions (which began to be implemented in the 1960s) which is at fault if anything is to to be blamed.

  4. Thank you for your comments Rafi. I was not trying to blame this on political rhetoric or even on the mental health institutions. Playing the blame game will get us nowhere. I just think that we can take responsibility each day for making the world a better place.

  5. Michael, I agree with you that we need to fight evil speech with more speech. And I think an example of evil speech is blaming Sarah Palin or the Tea Party for the actions of a lone, crazed assassin, as many on the left have.

  6. I agree, Sammy. An example of evil speech definitely is blaming Sarah Palin for the actions of one person, however, it definitely is our responsibility to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

  7. Ezekiel 18:20 “The being who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the crookedness of the father, nor the father bear the crookedness of the son. The righteousness of the righteous is upon himself, and the wrongness of the wrong is upon himself.”

  8. Even if the wrongness of the wrong is upon himself, is it not up to us to help change the world “tikkun olam” even if we do not bear direct guilt for this act?

    Michael Soter

  9. While the words “socialist” (to describe Obama) or “racist” (to describe the Tea Party folks) may be inaccurate or simplistic, I do not believe that they qualify as “hate speech.” One may speak incorrectly and one’s words may offend others, but this is not the same as “hate speech.” Part of the problem here is that the way we speak to one another has become so degraded that we resort to and short-cuts and false accusations. It is our First Amendment right to say “I hate Obama because I think he’s a socialist,” or “I hate Tea-Partiers because they are racist.” We step over a line, though, when we attempt to provoke violence or call for the death of those we “hate.” Palin’s cross-hairs are a careless metaphor for what she really means–she wants to prevent liberals from influencing public policy. Surely, she would like to “eliminate” them, but not to kill them. She was sloppy in her choice of words and images. Carelessness can, ultimately, lead to grief.

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