I wasn't the only person on Saturday who rushed to her Android when news came of the Tucson shooting. I wasn't looking however to read about what had happened. My auntie had already filled me in — "Someone tried to murder una representante. People have been killed," she'd reported. What I wanted to know was the killer's surname.
My eyes scanned the mobile papers. I held my breath. Finally, I saw it: Jared Loughner. Not a Ramirez, Gonzalez or Garcia.
It's safe to say there was a collective sigh of brown relief when the Tucson killer turned out to be a gringo. Had the shooter been Latino, media pundits wouldn't be discussing the impact of nasty politics on a young man this week — they'd be demanding an even more stringent anti-immigrant policy. The new members of the House would be stepping over each other to propose new legislation for more guns on the border, more mothers to be deported, and more employers to be penalized for hiring brown people. Obama would be attending funerals and telling the nation tonight that he was going to increase security just about everywhere.
Hernandez then goes on to state the social significance of a gay, Latino man coming to the aid of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, given Arizona's current political climate revolving around immigration:
It's painfully ironic that a gay Latino man came to the aid of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the storm of gunfire. Daniel Hernandez, an intern with the congresswoman, ran to Rep. Giffords and helped to stop the bleeding. If a judge hadn't blocked provisions of Arizona's SB 1070 law, the intern's surname would have easily qualified him as a target for police under different circumstances on Saturday.
But because Loughner comes from the majority group in the United States (and Arizona), his actions are not attributed to his social in-group, but instead to a unique mental illness that does not typify white males to a significant degree in the popular public consciousness. This perspective that does not associate Caucasians, or more to the point, political conservatives, with Loughner in any way is present in Sarah Palin's perspective:
Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election.
Really, had Loughner been Latino, would Palin be expressing similar sentiments? Or, would she be staunchly using the tragedy to heighten a culture of fear and drive American immigration policy in line with a nativist agenda? And seriously, for a former Vice-Presidential candidate to say that "Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own" and are unaffected by any variety of other social circumstances is rather naïve. Agreed, we all have individual power, choice, and autonomy.
Likewise, we are all significantly influenced by our social surroundings. Automatically discrediting political ideology from Loughner's actions is as absurd as automatically attributing his actions wholly to his political beliefs and/or political loudspeakers. Considering that an assisination attempt was made on Congresswoman Giffords (an obvious political figure), political ideology should at the very least be explored as one variable that contributed to this tragedy.
Picture via NPR (story also available for listening via podcast).