Despite snowfall and temperatures in the twenties, about 30 people gathered for a candlelight vigil on the Diag last night in remembrance of the six people killed on Saturday during the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D–Ariz.).
The University’s chapter of the College Democrats organized the vigil last night as a non-partisan push for awareness and peace College Democrats Chair Brendan Campbell said.
The vigil included readings of articles from The New York Times about the shooting, personal statements and a moment of silence. Vigil attendees discussed Giffords’s status — she remains in a Tuscon, Ariz. hospital in critical condition — and expressed sympathy for the victims of the shooting.
“(The College Democrats) thought that we should demonstrate that people all over the country are with the victims, and also we wanted to take a stand against political violence,” Campbell said.
The shooting occurred at a Tucson, Ariz. supermarket during a meet-and-greet with Giffords. Among the six fatalities are a 9-year-old girl, a federal district judge and one of Giffords’s staff members. Fourteen individuals, including Giffords, were injured, The Associated Press reported.
The sole suspect in the attack, Jared Loughner, 22, first appeared in court Monday, and is facing two federal murder charges and three attempted murder charges. He is currently being held without bail in a correctional institute near Phoenix, according to the AP.
Mariah Zeisberg, an assistant professor of political science at the University, attended the vigil and read a personal statement to the group. She said awareness of mental illness is important to preventing shootings by young people like Loughner.
“As we are looking at the accessibility of guns, the damage our words can do to each other and so on, we also should create awareness and resources and support for families and individuals who are struggling with mental illness,” Zeisberg said.
Yonah Lieberman, co-chair of the JustDems committee of College Democrats, helped organize the event and led a moment of silence.
LSA junior Kaitlin Liroff, a member of the student group Human Rights Through Education, attended the vigil. She said violence can erode humanity, and America is “better than that.”
“I think that whenever people get together to do something positive, the world becomes a better place,” Liroff said. “(The vigil) might have been small, but I think it was still meaningful.”
LSA junior Elizabeth Hartig, a member of College Democrats, was also present at the vigil and also thought the turnout was impressive considering the weather.
“I think that tragedy shows that there is some hate in America, but the response to it is far greater than the hate,” Hartig said.
In a Jan. 8 press release, U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.) addressed the effects of the shootings on the nation’s political climate and commended Giffords’s prior political successes.
“Our democracy was attacked (on Saturday),” Dingell wrote in the press release. “We are outraged and horrified by the violent attack that occurred on our citizens, including one of our great young American leaders, Gabby Giffords, who is one of the kindest and most dedicated members of the U.S. House of Representatives.”
According to John Garcia, research professor of archival development at the University’s Institute for Social Research, the shooting came at a time when both the nation and specifically the state of Arizona have been facing divisions regarding the issue of immigration.
Garcia said in an interview yesterday that he feels the state’s immigration debates have become increasingly contentious.
“It’s a climate that in the state at large has become much more hostile,” he said.
Garcia, who taught at the University of Arizona for more than 30 years before coming to Ann Arbor, added that the heated immigration debate in Arizona is especially concerning because it extorts anger and hatred and uses metaphors and references that are more violent in nature.
It’s especially ironic in Tucson, Garcia said, since the city is considered one of the more liberal or moderate in Arizona.
“In relation to the incident in Tucson, immigration is (not) so much the issue, but it’s just the tone around that issue,” Garcia said. “I think it’s been more the focus in terms of how do we deal with issues that seem to divide good segments of this country, and it’s a matter of saying, ‘Well, what do we do about it?’”
Garcia also addressed the rising issue of Second Amendment rights, following questions of the shooter’s mental stability and concerns of his access to guns. Arizona residents can attain firearms with relative ease, Garcia said.
Arizona’s gun law allows people age 21 or older carry concealed guns without a permit, according to the AP.
Garcia said there was even a proposal in the Arizona Legislature to permit individuals to carry concealed weapons on college campuses throughout the state.
“All it does is it just feeds into the mindset that if you got a problem with somebody, violence and guns is not an uncommon response,” Garcia said. “It’s not unique to that state because I think there’s a whole national climate that parallels that type of mindset.”
Garcia also mentioned the plans of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan.— an anti-gay church that has gained notoriety for its protest activities throughout the nation, including in Ann Arbor — to protest the funerals of the victims in Tucson.
“That’s always the most extreme point of view, but that climate there, it can’t help but affect how people see each other or how they think about each other,” he said.
“There’s things going on in Arizona that reflect a (heightened) kind of hostility … just in terms of the relationship between anger and debate and violence and guns and symbols … but at the same time I would suggest that you find it elsewhere in the U.S. as well,” Garcia said.