When Jared Loughner shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and nineteen other people last Saturday, I figured I’d keep my fool mouth shut for a few days while the facts came out. This turns out to have been a fantastic labour-saving device, as the vast majority of everything I’ve thought of to say has been said better than I could have phrased it — a trend which has concluded with this astute post from LabRat. Of course, if everything I had in mind had already been said, I wouldn’t be writing this post; let’s continue.
Last Wednesday, the Framingham, MA SWAT team murdered Eurie Stamps, a 68-year-old grandfather of 12 who had the misfortune to live in a house being raided on a drug warrant. Radley Balko gave this matter considerable attention, as he is wont to do, but it went unnoticed by the vast majority of the internet. Three days later, Loughner murdered Christina Green, Dorothy Morris, John Roll, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwin Stoddard, and Gabriel Zimmerman in an assault upon Rep. Giffords, whom Loughner injured along with thirteen other people. Quite naturally for an assault of such violence and magnitude, the whole damn internet can’t stop talking about… Rep. Giffords. Of those who were slain, only Christina Green — a heartstrings-tugging nine-year old — and John Roll — a federal judge — have received anywhere near the journalistic attention afforded to Giffords.
Why the disparity?
The question lends itself to ever-increasing levels of wookiee rage. We can immediately dismiss the notion that more people care about Saturday’s murders than Wednesday’s murder since more people were murdered on Saturday simply because the only victim given any significant media attention from Saturday’s assault is Rep. Giffords. We’re given Giffords, bravely fighting for her life in a chemically-induced coma (I’m pleased to report that at the time of writing she’s breathing on her own and expected to survive), and, um, maybe the kid and the judge or something. This leaves two similarly flagitious possibilities:
- The Tucson assault is more ideologically convenient than the Framingham assault. This is sadly plausible, as cheerleaders for Team Donkey can point (and have pointed) to violent imagery from the Sarah Palin-Tea Party-Rush Limbaugh axis of icky as obviously responsible for tipping this poor pre-schizophrenic gentleman into a widening gyre of destructive ideation, and cheerleaders for Team Elephant can point (and have pointed) to items like The Communist Manifesto on Loughner’s reading list as obvious proof that the fellow was a card-carrying Marxist.This hypothesis gains more traction as days go by, as folks like Andrew Sullivan use Loughner’s assault as a stick with which to beat (OMG ONOZ VIOLENT IMAGERY QUICK CENSOR THE INTERNET!) the SP-TP-RL-LMNOP axis of icky despite the steadily accumulating mountain of evidence that Loughner was several flats short of a lug nut and most likely targeted Giffords because she blew him off at a public appearance in 2007:
Alex Montanaro, a childhood friend of Loughner’s, said in a telephone interview Sunday night that Loughner had met Giffords at a public event at a Tucson mall in 2007. He said Loughner had called him the next day and recounted their conversation.
Loughner, whose videos show an obsession with grammar, asked Giffords “something like, ‘Why do words mean what they mean?’ ” Montanaro said. “And apparently she was just sort of dumbfounded and answered him in Spanish.”
“He was just sort of annoyed that he didn’t get the answer that he was hoping for,” Montanaro said.
Be that as it may, maybe next time it’ll be Sarah Palin’s fault! Sure, fine; E. D. Kain makes a decent argument that at least one spree killer was provoked to murder by violent imagery. And sure, it’s hard to deny that “blame the other guy” makes a damnably compelling argument. But Eurie Stamps’ case holds similar potential: Coke Party partisans can argue against the obvious discrimination of the War On Some Drugs, and Pepsi Party partisans can argue against the obviously homicidal encroachment of Big Government. (Hah, lol n00b. Neither party gives a shit about the victims of the drug war.)
- Some animals are more equal than others. We give a shit about Rep. Giffords because she’s a Congresscritter, and we don’t give a shit about Eurie Stamps because he wasn’t. This helpfully explains why even otherwise even-handed commentators like Sully focus monomaniacally upon Giffords to the exclusion of people who actually died: only Elected Officials are interesting, and those folks who aren’t going to kiss their loved ones ever again simply don’t qualify.Depressingly, other Elected Officials are doing their level best to support this particular hypothesis. For example, Rep. James Clyburn figures that the Tucson assault oughta be a get-out-of-TSA-free card:
A top House Democrat said the attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) should change how members of Congress are screened at airports.
“We’ve had some incidents where TSA authorities think that congresspeople should be treated like everybody else,” he said. “Well, the fact of the matter is, we are held to a higher standard in so many other areas, and I think we need to take a hard look at exactly how the TSA interact with members of Congress.”
Sure, buddy. Meanwhile, Rep. Robert Brady wants to ban people from saying nasty things about Congresscritters, and Rep. Peter King wants to forbid firearms within one thousand feet of Congresscritters. Now, if violent language about and firearms carry near Congresscritters are so damn scary that we ought to pass federal laws against them… why not extend those laws to “protect” people who aren’t Congresscritters?
…well, that’s different. I mean, Congresscritters obviously face greater threats to their own well-being than, I dunno, abused spouses or bullied children, right?
That’s my haterade content for the day. (Am I still allowed to say “haterade”?) But believe it or not, I think it’s invidious to suggest that everyone spending inch after (mostly metaphorical) column-inch on Rep. Giffords is caught in the grip of one or both of those mindsets.
For one thing, Loughner’s attack on Rep. Giffords is political simply because Rep. Giffords is a political figure. That article I just linked to is partly an example of Sullivan using Loughner’s assault as a club with which to beat Palin and the Tea Party and everyone else he doesn’t like, but the underlying point is impossible to ignore: this can’t not be a political act. In a representative democracy that claims to obtain its authority to govern from the consent of the governed, any attack on the representatives inherently involves the whole nation. Even journalists can’t fail to grasp this point at some level. Meanwhile, Balko has to fight tooth and nail (OMG ONOZ there’s that violent imagery again!) to get anyone outside Framingham to give half a shit about Eurie Stamps, or to consider the militarization of Framingham’s police department as a political matter. So since the Tucson shooting seems to strike so close to the heart of our society, man, we pay attention — even if the vast majority of us don’t really give a shit about district AZ 13.
For another — and this is particularly depressing — Loughner’s assault is compelling because it’s an outlier. Not only are mass murders like his unusual, but the circumstances involved are so bizarrely compelling (paranoid schizophrenic writes about weird shit and tries to kill a Congresscritter!) that we can’t help but obsess over it. Meanwhile, to Balko’s anguish, SWAT teams botch drug warrants and kill innocents every fuckin’ day. We don’t care any more; we’ve long passed the point of outrage fatigue over some jumped-up high school bully with an MP5 center-punching a frightened puppy who “looked like a pit bull and was coming right for me” that we just tune that shit out, and newspaper editors know that. But people with mental illnesses and Glock 17s are unusual enough to be zOMG TEH SCARY, so we focus on them.
Would that all of the above were otherwise.
A few unreferenced footnotes:
1. Yes, I did receive one of those “words none of your friends is likely to know” dictionaries for Christmas, whence comes “flagitious”. I’m just sharin’ the wealth a little here; I’m told that’s a good thing.
2. Radley Balko writes on the same topic I just addressed, though a couple days earlier:
Let’s get the obvious out of the way, here: Initiating violence against government officials and politicians is wrongheaded, immoral, futile, and counterproductive to any anti-government cause. As is encouraging or praising others who do. I ban anyone who engages in that kind of talk here.
But it’s worth remembering that the government initiates violence against its own citizens every day in this country, citizens who pose no threat or harm to anyone else.
For this, Andrew Sullivan lumps him in with (among others) Byron York and Jonah Goldberg in a post titled “The Right Doubles Down“.
Radley Balko? “The Right”? What the throbbing blue-veined fuck?
3. Larry Correia zeros in (OMG ONOZ MORE VIOLENT IMAGERY!!!1!!!eleven) on an otherwise unremarked-upon aspect of “the narrative”:
An Arizona sheriff(you get one guess where he falls on the whole secure the border thing) issued a statement yesterday saying that “Arizona has become a Mecca for prejudice and bigotry”.
What is with these people? Do they wait for something awful to happen so that they can harness it to whatever their pet issue is? Yes. The white congresswoman and a bunch of white people were shot by a crazy white guy because of prejudice against Mexicans. Do these idiots ever listen to themselves? Wait… shouldn’t the sheriff have to apologize for using the word Mecca in a negative light?
You get one guess as to Mr. Correia’s ethnic background; no peeking!