Thoughts on the Arizona Shootings & Free Speech

Dated 1/10/11 on Soapboxville


I suppose I should start this off by saying that I am not the most unbiased or nonjudgmental person you’ll ever meet. I admit to doing a happy dance after finding out the Eagles lost last night. I’m a registered democrat but am inclined to vote for the person and not the party.

I tell you all that because I’m about to ramble my way through my thoughts on the shooting in Arizona. It’s tragic. A beautiful little girl who’d just been elected to her school’s student council was killed, a pastor whose last act was to protect his wife also perished, along with a federal judge who’d just come from daily mass. A 40-year-old congresswoman was shot point blank in the head. She is laying in the hospital in a medically induced coma. Doctors are talking about her progress in terms of being able to respond to prompts and commands. It’s all so devastating. I don’t know where to begin.

First off to you Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh the rest of the extreme right wing republicans and tea party folks, if you don’t want the finger pointed at you when the horrors come to pass that you’ve been shouting about from the rooftops and every available microphone at every possible opportunity then perhaps it is a good idea to examine what it is you’re putting out into the universe. If any of you didn’t go to bed Saturday night with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach and at the very least a twinge of guilt then you are just not human. I have to admit that I truly want to hold Beck and those of his ilk accountable for using violent rhetoric and acting as town criers for an imagined end of democratic society. However, I just don’t know that I can or that I feel comfortable convicting anyone for the actions of another.

I think it’s illegal to shout fire in a public place and thus causing a panic. I know that words are powerful and that we should all choose our words wisely. I know that there are people out there who hang on to the words of certain public. I know that there are disenfranchised people out there who so desperately want to be part of something, anything, that they glom to radical movements just to be a part of something. I know that there are mentally unbalanced people who hear the violent rhetoric spewing from the mouths of public figures and elected officials and they cannot distinguish it from all the rest of the noise in the ether of our 24-hour a day news cycle. I know all of this but I just don’t know if I can get behind holding someone guilty for the actions of another.

Saturday afternoon when I heard the news about Congresswoman Giffords my first thought was to blame the violent rhetoric of the right. I thought, I hope they’re happy and was appalled that Sarah Palin’s people removed several damning pieces from her website and Twitter feed. I listened with rapt attention to Keith Olbermann’s special comment on his special edition of Countdown. I want to agree. I want to hold these hateful people’s feet to the fire. I want to hold them accountable and maybe they are but as the night wore on Saturday night I began to think more and more about the implications of holding someone guilty for the actions of another.

I’m a child of the 80s and I remember a time when the Parents Music Resource Center wanted to censor rock lyrics. I remember when the parents of a teenager, who shot himself while listening to “Suicide Solution” took Ozzy Osbourne to court over the death of their son. The court found that Ozzy was not guilty. I’ve never heard the song but according to Wikipedia it’s a song about alcohol and not about committing suicide. That’s the frightening part of holding someone accountable for someone else’s actions. Short of calling the shooter up and telling him to shoot Congresswoman Giffords I’m not sure we can honestly blame Beck or Palin or anyone else for the shooter’s actions. If we do, is it the beginning of a slippery slope?

Look, we’re all adults here and certainly we know that strong hateful words incite some people to violence. And we also know that the first amendment protects you from the government and prosecution and not the angry person you just insulted or sponsors who are not down with your hateful violent rhetoric. We know that we should choose our words wisely. We should all know better than to list incumbents we’d like voted out with gun sights over their city on a map. But you know what? Most people see or hear those sorts of things and either choose to ignore them or see them for what they are idiotic hateful nonsense.

Do I think Beck and Palin and others of that ilk are responsible for the deaths of 6 people? Even though I started this piece thinking that it’s wrong to hold someone accountable for the actions of another I’m not sure I feel that way now. It occurs to me that I do believe words are powerful and that perhaps there are things better left unsaid or said a better way. We should know better. The world is in desperate need of thoughtful people using strong words and indoor voices. The world needs a quiet peacefulness during these heated days. We need thinking men and women to lead us to a better tomorrow.

While I still think we are each responsible for our own actions it is true that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Perhaps the things we learn as children are still the most true, think before you speak, play nicely together, don’t run with scissors, share, use indoor voices. I’ll end this the same way I’ve ended many of my blogs. The Hard Rock Café had the right idea — Love All, Serve All.



With love,



~ Carol Anne


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