“Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride”
I was driving to work the other morning and U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” came on the radio. The song always gets to me with the raw power that was the hallmark of U2’s early work, before they became successful, rich, and happy.
The verse I quoted above, about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., was particularly haunting on what was otherwise a beautiful spring morning as I pondered the kind of person who would take disagreement with someone else to the level of cold-blooded murder. There were so many, then–King, Malcolm X, John and Bobby Kennedy; there are so many, most of them people you’ve never heard of, and never will. Every day, people get angry and decide, through some process I can’t even begin to fathom, that their anger confers upon them a license for verbal and physical violence.
I ran across this picture Tuesday, of a young Black woman just trying to go to school in Little Rock, Arkansas, trying to ignore the hostile crowd that tries to intimidate her (hurling who-knows-what-kind of abuse at her) and just get safely into school.
This isn’t just something that happened during the bad old days, though. It happens every day, and at seemingly the slightest provocation. Back when I was teaching, I had an anti-gun bulletin board in my classroom with clippings about gun violence. One guy was shot because he spilled beer on the shooter’s shoes. Jeez, if I’d shot everyone who’d spilled beer on me at a concert, I’d be doing dozens of consecutive life sentences without possibility of parole; I’d be a serial killer. But you know, somehow, I have been gifted with a sense of perspective, and have managed to give a proportional response of a dirty look, or, with really egregious spillers, “Dude, you’re spilling on me. Knock it off.” No human beings were hurt in the making of those evenings. However, if I am to believe the news, my measured response is not the norm I once assumed.
In the wake of the Health Care Reform Build, multiple Democratic congresspersons have received threats of violence and violent action. One (ostensibly) pro-life kook left a message for Bart Stupak:
“Congressman Stupak, you baby-killing motherf—er. … I hope you bleed out your a–, got cancer and die, you motherf—er,” he says.
It boggles the mind to try to imagine how a person can live with such a staggering level of cognitive dissonance in one head. You’re not very pro-life if you go around wishing painful death on strangers. Even if they are Bart Stupak.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that in addition to being totally rabid, the person who left that message was completely ignorant. I can only assume the “baby-killing” people keep referring to is abortion; and yet, a promise was made, and kept with Obama’s signing of an executive order, that no federal funds would be made available to pay for abortions. I think that’s wrong—if you think abortion is wrong, don’t have one—but in any case, that’s how it is.
Locally, our congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s office was vandalized presumably in response to her vote on HCR. Tucson is the home of one of the few Democrat bastions in the state, though we are by no means the majority even here; only half of our 8 representatives to the House are Democrats, and neither of our senators are. I live in a state where the majority seems to think guns are good and gays are bad, and any caring for your fellow human beings is deemed Socialist, and therefore, evil.
However, it’s not just liberal folks who voted for HCR that have become targets. Republican Rep. Eric Cantor had his office shot up, and a threatening video posted on YouTube calling Cantor “pure evil,” and further delightful messages:
“Remember Eric . . . our judgment time, the final Yom Kippur has been given,” he says in the profanity-laced video. “You are a liar, you’re a pig . . . you’re an abomination. You receive my bullets in your office, remember they will be placed in your heads. You and your children are Lucifer’s abominations.”
Clearly the considered argument of a mentally healthy and intelligent individual.
The very idea that someone would wish death, or actually commit murder, because they disagree with what someone else is doing is something so reprehensible that to call it “uncivilized” is sorely understating the problem. “Uncivilized” indicates that we have somehow reverted to animal behavior, and frankly, animals don’t behave this poorly. They don’t act with malice. Referring to people who act like this as “animals” is unkind to animals; rather, they can only be called “monsters,” the kind that we scare children with, the kind that keep us awake at night, the kind that nobody really thought existed, but lately, I’m shocked to watch the griffin fly across the front pages of papers across the nation.
Others have attacked verbally with racial and anti-gay epithets, as if a person’s race or sexual orientation somehow figured into a debate about health care reform and taxes. If there was any question that these people know only hate, and have no interest in any kind of intelligent discussion of the actual issue they claim to be concerned about, that sort of thing will put it to rest. What they don’t understand is that once you’ve lowered yourself to hate speech, you have effectively removed yourself from the conversation; the opinions of total wack-jobs are not of interest to thinking people. Even if they’re on TV.
Problem is, thinking people seem to be thin on the ground. I understand anger. I understand rage, even. I understand the feeling of panic that the world is heading in the wrong direction. But people need to get a fucking grip. If your thought processes take you from zero to brutality in less than 60 seconds, you are wrong and undoubtedly sick. You don’t get to fly your plane into a building because of taxes and religion. You don’t get to kill your partner just because s/he broke up with you. You don’t get to beat people up because you don’t like with whom and how they love. Murder and mayhem are not acceptable demonstrations of political action.
You do not get to enforce your own opinions via violence; that makes you a tyrant, a psychopath, a terrorist. Decent people don’t act that way. And what frightens me as I read the news that there are seemingly so many that think it’s a perfectly acceptable response to a situation they don’t really dig. They don’t use their brains. They don’t use their words. They don’t use any of the tools that we’ve developed for working out differences, including agreeing to disagree. They just screech and howl and wave a bone around, not caring whom it hits, or worse, sincerely hoping it does.