The politicization of tragedy

Many older generation Americans will tell you they can still remember exactly where they were when they learned of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. For my generation, all of us can tell you where we were when the towers fell. Even more recently, I can remember where I was when I heard that former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot on Jan. 8, 2011.

I was walking to the Daily Wildcat offices for a meeting, my first official action as incoming news editor. I happened to be absent-mindedly browsing through my Twitter feed as I walked when I saw the breaking reports. Shortly thereafter, people began texting me, asking if I had seen the news, what I had heard.

In the days that followed, I hardly left the office. I hardly slept. And even after the story had been dutifully reported and our collective attention began to return to normalcy, one questioned still rang out to me every time I contemplated the events of that day.

Why?

What could possess someone to so needlessly and heedlessly take someone else’s life? Who was this Jared Lee Loughner? What were his motivations?

Much of human existence revolves around the search for meaning or purpose. We go to school to learn about the world around us, to college to learn what path we want to follow in life. This inevitable human curiosity is what spurs innovation and creation, engenders our competitive natures and drives us to succeed in our personal goals. But, much like troublesome children around a hot stove, curiosity can sometimes be a painful experience.

In the aftermath of the Jan. 11 shooting, people began searching for Loughner’s purpose. They scrutinized his rambling YouTube videos in an attempt to determine his political leanings. And, in doing so, they arrived at the conclusion that he could be either a fringe right activist or very liberal. Eventually, one of his friends came forward to explain that Loughner harbored a grudge against Giffords stemming from an exchange at an event.

It is this same search for purpose that is driving the swirling speculation today regarding the massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. Just like the shooting of Jan. 8, people are trying to make sense of the senseless violence. Who was this James E. Holmes, and why did he allegedly, and seemingly randomly, open fire on a crowd of complete strangers?

Perhaps it’s just the times we are living in, or maybe it’s because news outlets are in full campaign mode, but already the politicization has begun. ABC News reported that he apparently had tea party leanings, an unfounded allegation that the organization later retracted. Joel B. Pollak, of Breitbart News, reported that Holmes may be a registered Democrat, a factoid that was, too, partly retracted as the story continued to develop.

So what we’ve learned thus far is that the shooter may either be a tea party activist or a registered Democrat, but may be neither.

In time, perhaps the shooter’s motivations will become clear. Or, as may be likely, there may be no discernible underlying motivation, no conspiratorial headline for blogs and newspapers to trumpet. Maybe it was just another senseless act of violence in a world that is sometimes devoid of sense. And that may be the hardest thing for us to accept.

All my thoughts are with those who were affected by this tragedy.

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