Time To Holster Your Opinions? Intolerance Kills

Gabrielle Giffords, Democratic nominee and gen...
Gabrielle Giffords. Image via Wikipedia

Great piece in today’s New York Times, responding to the terrible shooting yesterday in Tucson:

Within minutes of the first reports Saturday that Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, and a score of people with her had been shot in Tucson, pages began disappearing from the Web. One was Sarah Palin’s infamous “cross hairs” map from last year, which showed a series of contested Congressional districts, including Ms. Giffords’s, with gun targets trained on them. Another was from Daily Kos, the liberal blog, where one of the congresswoman’s apparently liberal constituents declared her “dead to me” after Ms. Giffords voted against Nancy Pelosi in House leadership elections last week.

Odds are pretty good that neither of these — nor any other isolated bit of imagery — had much to do with the shooting in Tucson. But scrubbing them from the Internet couldn’t erase all evidence of the rhetorical recklessness that permeates our political moment. The question is whether Saturday’s shooting marks the logical end point of such a moment — or rather the beginning of a terrifying new one.

I blog at opensalon, under my name, Caitlin Kelly. There, last week, someone decided to threaten me — for expressing an opinion (on boredom, of all things) he disliked — with beating me bloody.

Excuse me?

Did I laugh it off because, hey, he’s just some random guy on the Internet? Because he lives (he says) in a state far away from me?

No. I called my local police and they are investigating it.

Because to threaten someone in this fashion is a crime that can lead to jail time.

A few people at that site sneered at me and derided me for my sensitivity. He’d done it to a bunch of other people, so why was I so overly sensitive?

Because being threatened for speaking my mind, civilly and calmly, is an abuse of my rights. Because it is illegal.

And because the man who shot 20 and killed six people yesterday in Tucson started out “only” rambling on wildly on the Internet before he decided to express his opinions with a Glock instead.

What will it take to restore any sense of civility to public discourse?

When did lethal rage become the default way to express your opinion?