Immediately after crazed gunman Jared Lee Loughner gravely wounded Arizona U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, killed U.S. Judge John M. Roll, and six other people while wounding 12 innocent bystanders, the immigration rhetoric subtly ratcheted up.
Denouncing Gifford’s shooting, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik and others made it clear that what they referred to as “inflammatory speech” had made the political atmosphere in Arizona so toxic that acts of violence were inevitable.
Referring to talk radio hosts, Dupnik charged them with “inflaming the American public by those who get paid to do that. It might be free speech but it does not come without consequences.”
Ironically, Dupnik is the most skilled flamethrower of all.
Last year, at the height of the S.B. 1070 controversy, Dupnik called it “racist” and “disgusting” while claiming that Arizona is “the mecca of prejudice and bigotry.” Furthermore, Dupnik went on record that he would not enforce the measure if it became law, a blatant violation of his oath of office.
Dupnik never directly claimed that S.B. 1070 and Giffords’ support of it were linked to the shootings. But a close read between the lines strongly suggests that Dupnik blames Loughner’s multiple murders on “the haters,” a label that many automatically apply to Americans who favor enforcing federal immigration law.
Jan-Ruth Mills, a Pima Community College Holocaust history teacher, echoed Dupnik’s charges of looming “consequences,” presumably violence, when any one of with a political mindset different than hers exercises his First Amendments rights. According to Mills, “I’m concerned about the hatred, about the words that should not be used in a democracy. I hope that people will realize that hateful words can have consequences.”
Since “hateful words” was this summer’s widely used phrase attached to S.B. 1070 advocates, I translate Mills as follows: “If you speak out against illegal immigration and, heaven forbid, support legislation that curbs it, people might get shot.”
All anyone knows today is that Loughner has a long, troubled history of unstable, unpredictable behavior. As it happens, he lives in Tucson. He could just as easily live in your neighborhood.
In the 24 hour news cycle, intelligent debate about the causes behind the slaughter and what the broad consequences should be is beyond reach. In truth, Loughner probably had no motive. According the Bureau of the Census, more than 230 million Americans over age 18 live in the United States. Statistically, a small percentage of them will be criminally insane and, yes, “haters,” although the two will often be rolled into one. But that tiny portion of the population isn’t cause for restricting the First Amendment — the goal of Dupnik, Mills, and others who have weighed in over the weekend.
Finally, here’s an oddity to consider. In April 2009 Jiverly Wong, a Vietnamese immigrant marched into a Binghamton, New York, community center where English as a second language classes were taught. Wong killed 14 people including himself. Later, while gathering evidence, policemen learned that Wong had told a work colleague that “America sucks.”
While Giffords’ tragic shooting has sparked a flurry of critics demanding that limits be placed on Americans right to free speech, Wong’s mass killings prompted no similar outrage arguing for tightening federal immigration laws to avoid admitting unstable refugees who have little probability of assimilating. In fact, within days, the Wong case vanished from the news.
The stark disparity between what immigration causes get championed and which are buried is telling. What’s clear so far in the Loughner case is that S.B. 1070 advocates have been and will continue to be falsely accused of guilt by association.