When You Heard That Gabby Giffords Had Been Shot in Arizona, Were You Surprised?


Those of us who live on Long Island know that words of hatred have the power to tragically transform communities.

Words do not create the mentally unstable people who carry out acts of extreme violence, but they convince the actors that violence is supported by the community.

The words also focus the killers on targets.

We Long Islanders also know that the enablers of hatred will inevitably disclaim the violence once it occurs.

Over the last several years, political rhetoric has increasingly taken on militant and even militaristic language. Undocumented immigrants were once said to come here to “take our jobs.” Now they are described as “alien invaders.” In Arizona, as in Suffolk County, fear has been ratcheted up for political gain. When the facts have not supported the rhetoric, new facts have been invented.

No evidence of beheadings in the desert? Just say that they happened. Suffolk crime stats don’t support claims of an immigrant crime wave? Who needs statistics? Death panels? Socialism? Who needs facts?

Young people hear the rhetoric and come to see the people put in the crosshairs as threats that need to be put down, whether the target selected is Gabby Giffords or Marcelo Lucero. These young wolves see themselves as the avenging hand of the community in which they live.

Lets face it. When you heard 26 months ago that a mob had attacked and killed an immigrant in Suffolk, were you really surprised at the location?

When you saw that the Saturday shooting happened in Arizona, did it seem like a bolt from the blue?

Apocalyptic rhetoric does not float harmlessly in the ether. It descends like a killing smog over a community infecting political discourse and even personal interactions. And for a tiny number people on the edge of sanity, it becomes an empowering concoction that allows them to assume the hero’s pose and kill.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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