There was a time — for days, even weeks — after the terrorist attacks of 2001 that I could not look at a digital clock showing 9:11 without seeing images from that horrible day.
But I got over it. And in the same way (in much abbreviated fashion) I got over Saturday’s shootings in Arizona. Sunday was a strange day. Yesterday was more depressing. But today? Things seem back to “normal,” whatever that is. How quickly we move on.
But there are a few things I’d like to say about the terrible shootings that killed six people and injured 14, including a U.S. congresswoman. On the issue of whether the killer, Jared Loughner, was influenced by violent, mostly rightwing, rhetoric, we might never know for sure. But at a time when some on-air entertainers/commentators regularly denounce not simply the ideas or policies of opponents but their very legitimacy in what some observers have called, using a rather odd phrase, “eliminationist rhetoric” — the potential impact on unstable individuals seems self-evident.
Much as been made of the fact that the shooter’s political views are all over the ideological map, as if that excuses the vitriol of some of the more inflammatory rightwing commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. (Loughner cited both Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto as among his favorite books.)
But why do the political views of an obviously unhinged individual have to be coherent to suggest that violent rhetoric emanating from any source, left or right could help push him over the edge? Again, we might never know for sure, but it can’t be ruled out. Consider: Did Loughner come by this online pronouncement “You don’t have to accept [the] federalist laws” after reading James Madison? I don’t think so.
So that’s one question. But perhaps more disturbing was to read a Washington Post account of Loughner’s behavior in an algebra class at Pima Community College. According to an email from the time, the instructor wrote: “I always felt, you know, somewhat paranoid. When I turned my back to write on the board, I would always turn back quickly - to see if he had a gun.”
Despite the instructor’s repeated attempts to remove Loughner from the class, the college did not act until he arrived one day in class, pointed to a copy of the U.S. Constitution on the wall, and declared, “You’re violating my First Amendment right of free speech,” the newspaper said.
What was Loughner like in public school? What signs of mental illness, if any, might he have displayed there? We’ll surely read more about this in the coming days, but in the meantime, UCLA’s Center for Mental Health in Schools is publicizing its exhaustive online clearinghouse on the subject, which is filled with important information for anyone connected with the public schools.
ASBJ has also written extensively about school violence and how to prevent it, most notably in Managing Editor Kathleen Vail’s 2009 account from eyewitnesses to the Columbine massacre, written 10 years after the shootings. Also see our Topics Archive for related stories on school safety and bullying.
Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor