Annette John-Hall: Sheriff in Ariz. speaks truth

Pima County, Ariz., Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik spoke Saturday after the shooting rampage in Tucson. He said political rhetoric has taken a dangerous turn, because of its possible effects on unbalanced people.
Pima County, Ariz., Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik spoke Saturday after the shooting rampage in Tucson. He said political rhetoric has taken a dangerous turn, because of its possible effects on unbalanced people.
Posted: January 11, 2011

Thank you, Clarence W. Dupnik.

From the heartbreaking horror of Saturday's shooting massacre in Tucson, Ariz., that wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, it took the veteran sheriff of Puma County to finally tell us what we all knew but were afraid to say:

Words do matter.

"When you look at unbalanced people, how they are, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths, about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," the sheriff said in a nationally televised news conference.

Finally, someone with enough courage to speak the truth.

Sure, Dupnik probably spoke out of his own grief. He considered Giffords and John Roll - a Republican federal judge who was one of six people killed - his good friends.

But it would be hard to argue his point that political rhetoric has taken a dangerous turn in this country.

A hard right.

Language of violence

Many in the media seem to be going out of their way to say both sides are to blame - equally.

But it wasn't Democrats who called President Obama a liar, a socialist, a racist, and an alien, nor was it a Democratic pastor who prayed for our president's death.

It wasn't Democrats who spit on members of Congress and called them vile names during the health-care debate. And Democrats weren't the ones who posted a map with Giffords and her district literally in cross hairs as targets for defeat in the 2010 elections.

No, that honor belongs to Sarah Palin, of the "lock and reload!" tweets. She has since taken down her hate map. Now, why would she do that?

It's one thing to make fun of a politician on Saturday Night Live or to disagree, even passionately. But it's quite another to incite folks with violent language and images and to try to pawn it off as free speech.

We can talk all we want about how dangerous it is to link the motives of a deranged killer to a political agenda. If we do that, we're no better than the folks we accuse of inciting, right?

Well, if that's the case, why did the guy try to assassinate a Democratic congresswoman at a political event?

Words matter. Isn't that what we try to instill in our children, despite all of the frenzied hatred and violence they see and hear in images and language every day?

Really, it's enough to make a sane person go insane - or an insane person do the unthinkable.

Angry echo chamber

For his part, Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.), always the pragmatist, plans to introduce legislation that would make it a federal offense to threaten or incite violence against a member of Congress or a federal official.

"Who knows what was in this nut's mind?" says Brady of the 22-year-old gunman, who clearly has a troubled history. "But you want to take away as many symbols as you can."

While Congress is supposed to be a place of mediation and decorum, it has become an angry echo chamber of partisan fighting.

"And now it's spilling out into the general public," Brady says. "We need to be more civil toward each other."

Judging from the online reaction to Sheriff Dupnik's comments, we have a long way to go.

On Twitter, folks called for the sheriff's resignation, bashed his remarks as reckless, and accused him of ranting just to make political points.

When in reality, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green was the only one with the political agenda. The granddaughter of former Phillies manager Dallas Green, who had an interest in politics and had just been elected to her school's student council, had gone to the event to meet Giffords - and found herself in a gunman's crosshairs.

"We thought it was such a good idea," said Roxanna Green, Christina's mother. "All of this hate, it needs to stop."


Contact me at 215-854-4986 or Ajohnhall@phillynews.com.

Read my work: http://go.philly.com. Follow me on Twitter @Annettejh.

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