As American as Apple Pie: Shooting Gabrielle Giffords

It started with a Facebook post by Bob Rogers, a photographer I worked with in Athens, Ohio, back in the late 60s: “Extremists win by murder. Gabrielle Giffords shot this morning. I hope all who preach hate are happy. You are succeeding in tearing apart our once great country.”

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know who Garbrielle Giffords was at first. I had to search for the first cryptic stories on Google news to discover she was an Arizona Congresswoman who had been marked by crosshairs on a Sarah Palin website and had beaten a Tea Party candidate who liked to campaign by letting his followers shoot automatic weapons. Bob, who knew her from her work on cycling projects called her a “great centrist public servant.”

As the news reports trickled in, I couldn’t tell if she was dead or alive and the toll of dead and wounded kept fluctuating. I still don’t know the final count.

Two quotes crossed my mind. H. Rap Br own, the black activist of the 1960s, who coined the phrase, “Violence is as American as apple pie,” and a verse from John Fogerty’s anti-war song, Deja Vu (All Over Again):

Did you hear ’em talkin’ ’bout it on the radio
Did you try to read the writing on the wall
Did that voice inside you say I’ve heard it all before
It’s like Deja Vu all over again

John F. Kennedy 1963

I’ve written before about my memories of the JFK assassination. This was our generation’s loss of innocence.

Martin Luther King 1968

I was photo editor of The Ohio University Post in 1968 when Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis. When I wrote about a Peter, Paul and Mary Concert, fellow campus reporter Carol Towarnicky reminded me that the concert was the night after MLK was killed.

She shared her recollection of the night, “my personal memory of that was that there was some kind of big meeting on campus — wasn’t there always? — and i was alone at the post since i was the campus editor – when i got a call from one of the editors at The Messenger. Their AP (Associated Press teletype) was turned off for the evening and he said he had heard a rumor about King being shot and would i check — and i was just about to get up from my chair when i heard the bells for a bulletin..”

What I most remember was how close the university came to violence. Several hundred black students staged a sit-in in the middle of the major intersection in town. That wasn’t unusual, but an Athens police captain whose face was usually as red as his neck wasn’t going to tolerate black  folks doing that.

He was about to have his men wade into the crowd with billy clubs swinging when a university administrator offered to defuse the situation. He pulled one of the student leaders aside and asked how long the student thought they were going to sit there to prove their point. There was some give and take, then the administrator when back to the captain and said, “Give them X minutes and they’ll move on peacefully.” Fortunately, that’s what happened.

Robert F. Kennedy 1968

We had just put the paper to bed and a bunch of us decided to walk down town to Jake’s, the only place open late at night. It was known best for its night fry cook, a woman so large she could barely fit between the counter and the grill. When she walked, she was so short of breath her mouth would bite chunks of air like a guppy on its last fins. After having a burger with her special sauce – she dripped sweat onto the grill the whole the time she cooked – we headed back to the office to call it a night.

A student ran up and said that RFK had just been shot. We thought he was kidding or drunk until we got back and checked the wires.

I can’t wait until I get to my negatives of that era. I shot some memorable photos of students reacting to the news of those two murders.

George Wallace 1972

I was chief photographer at The Gastonia Gazette when the news of the attempt on George Wallace’s life came across the wires.

I had just spent several days on the campaign trail with North Carolina governor Terry Sanford, who was a long-shot candidate for president. I really liked the guy. He and Florida Governor / Senator Bob Graham were two men I always hoped would end up in The Big Seat. I hoped that Wallace dropping out of the race might boost Sanford’s chances, but that wasn’t to be.

Gerald Ford 1975 (Twice)

The odd thing about the attempts on Gerald Ford’s life is that I don’t have any strong recollections of covering anything related to them. Maybe by that time shooting political figures had become so commonplace it stopped being something you remembered.

About the only thing I remember about Gerald Ford was when he came to South Florida to campaign for a term of his own. It was a tough sell because a lot of folks hadn’t forgiven him for pardoning Richard Nixon.

The day was unseasonably cold for Florida and there was a steady rain falling as he made it down the coast from one end of the region to the other. I looked at him as he drove by in an open convertible, soaked to the skin by the cold rain, but still waving at everyone he passed. “This guy really WANTS this job,” I recalled thinking.

I ended up voting for him. After the dark Dick Nixon days, I thought he was an honorable man who did what he thought was best for the country, even though it was probably political suicide.

Ronald Reagan 1981

Former President Richard Nixon was supposed to speak at some kind of gathering in Palm Beach. Representatives of the organization, security folks and the local media were meeting to work out the details of the visit when I got a radio call that President Reagan had been shot.

We media types looked at each other, came to the conclusion that a possibly dead current President was a bigger story than a future visit from a disgraced ex-President, so there was a bolt for the doors.

Let’s dial back the hate speech

“We know that silence equals consent when atrocities are committed against innocent men, women and children. We know that indifference equals complicity when bigotry, hatred and intolerance are allowed to take root. And we know that education and hope are the most effective ways to combat ignorance and despair.” ~ Gabrielle Giffords

In one of the rare instances of civility in the last presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain took the microphone away from a woman who said that Barack Obama was “an Arab,”and countered a man who said he was “scared…to bring up a child under an Obama presidency: “I have to tell you that he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States. He’s a decent family man that I happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. There’s a difference between rhetoric and record, but you can still be respectful. I will point out his record and I will do it with respect.”

His comments were met with boos.

Did that voice inside you say I’ve heard it all before
It’s like Deja Vu all over again

30 Replies to “As American as Apple Pie: Shooting Gabrielle Giffords”

  1. Wow. Lots of memories there. On the Reagan shooting, I recall that a reader called asking about him being shot and that was our first clue to turn on the newsroom TV. When I left the paper in 2008, it seemed like there were TVs every 20 feet.

    Yes, there IS too much hate, a lot of it fueled by talk radio and bloggers. I just can’t think of this or that party being in charge as a life or death issue since neither seems to fix anything. I hope like hell they don’t find evidence the shooter saw Palin’s image of Giffords in crosshairs. It’s totally irresponsible.

  2. Kid Matt says he’s found references that the H. Rap Brown quote is actually, “Violence is as American as cherry pie,” not “apple pie.”

    I’ve seen both and remember apple better.

    No matter how you slice it, it needs to stop.

  3. I am watching CBS Sunday Morning clip about Bullying and how they are teaching the students how to react to and how to handle bullying. this may be the start on how to teach early how to handle this Love and Hate scenario. They say that Love and Hate are equal but opposite poles. Personally i like lovin better…

  4. Ken, in my opinion, this violence will only continue as long as our nation accepts “being at undeclared war” is an industry that counts military jobs as being more important than as peacemakers. How unfortunate for us!

  5. Thanks for all these recollections, Ken. Although they are not the usual happy ones of our relative safe childhoods in Cape.

    Personally, I do not think that the shooting this week are the result of heated political rhetoric or hate speech. Anymore then the shooting at Columbine was, although that was the first conclusion of the political class and press.

    It is the result of a kid who is off the tracks, emotionally and psychologically. Saddly I think there are a lot of kids like that of all races, religions and political leanings in our country now. There always have been but it seems there are more now who are just floundering. They have no goals, no hope, no guidance, no real education, no discernible future. As such, they have no confidence or motivation to do the things that makes one a productive person. They live in the computer and use it as their substitute for human best friends.

    This very young boy who shot and killed people in Arizona was not a result of heated political argument, which frankly is a healthy and important aspect of our free society. He is more a result of a broken education system, a demoralized culture and the normal hormonal angst of the young.

    1. Susan, I was just having an exchange with Bill Hopkins about this.

      This wasn’t a random drive-by shooting. He targeted a congresswoman doing a meet and greet with constituents and a judge. (Although the judge might have been “collateral damage.)

      He might not have been a card-carrying member of any organized or disorganized group, but his actions and his anti-government screeds were definitely political.

      The constant drumbeat of militant rhetoric may be just what it takes to send folks like him over the edge.

      After all, if the beat of a butterfly’s wings in Africa can send a hurricane over my house in Florida, what makes you think that talk of “Second Amendment remedies” and cross-haired targets can’t create a political windstorm?

      I have no problem with heated political debate and discussions so long as they don’t advocate or “wink” at change at the end of a gun barrel.

  6. I would toss John Lennon’s name into this list. Not because of how politically active he was, and he was. But just because he was another one shot for no damned good reason.

    1. I considered Lennon, but opted not to include to include him. Also missing was Malcolm X. I didn’t comb the inside pages of my hometown paper too closely, but his death didn’t get any big headlines, not surprisingly.

  7. It is obvious to me that we need to ban some more words, as apparently we are all so fragile we will run to our gun cabinets and dash off to a gathering and start shooting people if we hear them spoken out loud or heck, even implied.

    Let’s make a list to help the future banners…
    hold your powder
    cold dead hands
    smoking gun
    hired gun
    set your sights on
    stare down the barrel
    jump the gun
    under the gun
    in the cross hairs
    gunning for
    bring in the big guns
    son of a gun
    beat the gun
    stick to your guns

    Yep, banning those words will improve our heated political rhetoric, doncha think??

  8. OH! Here are a few more phrases that need to banned as soon as possible….

    and a few more:

    bite the bullet
    shoot off at the mouth
    political air war and political ground game
    shot your wad
    aim high
    target rich environment

  9. And of course, we must ban the musical “Annie Get Your Gun” !!!

    Can’t have that!

    They even do that show in high schools!! WHAT are we thinking??

    1. It’s a beautiful day in S. FL. I’m meeting up with a couple of friends and we’re going on a bicycle ride.

      I’m sure the families and friends of the six dead folks will find your comments amusing.

      You’re missing the mark, to add to your list.

  10. No, I have hit the bulls eye with my remarks.

    If you turn on TV you will see that mainstream press is blaming those six deaths totally on Sarah Palin for putting a bulls eye on her website.

    My remarks are as silly as that charge. But nonetheless right on target for making the point.

    I was not trying to be amusing. I was illustrating the folly of blaming the shootings on the lack of political civility, hate speech, and heated political rhetoric.

    Enjoy you idilic afternoon. I am sure you will be thinking of the families and friends of the wounded and dead, as will I.

  11. I have to add my 2 cents. (“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”)
    I don’t agree with many of my neighbors on how to rule the country (I tend to be a flaming liberal democrat), but I do believe that after all our discussions and debates, and after all the votes are taken, we must stand by our neighbors and our elected leaders and do the best we can to make life better for people in our country. I don’t believe that my conservative friends are evil or stupid or have selfish goals or ideals. We all want things to be better, we just have different ideas about how to make it so. I really agree with George. There’s no need to be petty and ugly about things. We do need debate, but not bullying and namecalling, or inciting hatred and violence. There’s way to much of this going on right now, and it needs to stop.

  12. I have witnessed too many attempted and too many successful political assassinations in my 67 years, so I’m amazed that some people have reacted to yesterday’s events with anger at the press instead of sorrow over the events. I think it’s time for all of us to do what Keith Olbermann did last night: to look at ourselves in a mirror and ask whether we’ve done anything to contribute to the hatred and vitriol that are poisoning the political landscape in this country, then to apologize, and then to vow to change our own behavior.

  13. Keith Olberman is the first person who should look in that mirror. His nightly diatribe is some of the most hateful,vile rhetoric out there in the world of commentary. The right has no corner on inappropriate speech. When Henry Hyde was in office, there were calls on the left that he and his family should be killed, and when President Bush was in office there was a Hollywood movie which to all but the most blind among us was a call for assassination. Where was the condemnation then?

  14. @Mike H. That’s exactly my point. When Keith Olberman looked in the mirror, he didn’t like what he saw, so he’s apologized and vowed to change. I’m surprised you aren’t pleased.

  15. I have enjoyed this blog about life in Cape for several months. I sincerely hope that it doesn’t become a political sounding board! While political issues are important and should not be ignored, it’s been nice to have a place to share memories of Cape’s past as well as hopes for it’s future. The are certainly plenty of other venues dedicated to the rhetoric of politics. I hope this blog doesn’t get knocked off course.

    1. Steve,

      Your point is well taken. I usually don’t dip into the muddy waters of politics, but it’ll happen from time to time. I usually moderate the comments pretty closely to keep them from getting personal or too off-topic.

      (The most challenging of those times came when I pointed out the coincidence of Koran-burning Terry Jones and Rush Limbaugh both coming from the Class of 1969. That was the first time I ever felt it necessary to delete some comments that had become too personal (to other commenters).)

      From time to time, though, current events may trigger memories of past events that may be of a political nature.

      Frankly, I thought / hoped that this page would contain a non-controversial message: it’s a bad thing when bullets overturn ballots and that we need to be aware that careless use of language can have unintended consequences.

      When it became apparent that not everybody would accept that premise, I went on a bike ride to keep from adding gasoline to the fire.

      I didn’t go back on look at all the topics, but I would hazard a guess that less than half a dozen of the 312 stories I’ve posted have been controversial / political. I don’t see that ratio changing.

      In fact, I expected the Strack Quarry piece to have been a lot more controversial than this one. As you might note, today’s piece of dress codes has us back on track.

  16. Audry, Since I find it impossible to watch Mr. Olberman, I was not aware of his statement. Thank you for pointing it out. I am indeed pleased, if he actually does as he has said.

  17. It may be true that the man who shot the people in Arizona including congresswoman Gifford was incited by the retoric from extremists or it may be that he is just a man with mental problems who is allowed to own a glock. In either event the extremism of today’s political debate is “over the top” and does create more extreme behavior among many people who are “on the edge” of sanity. All political debate can and should take place without the threat of or encouragement of violence. This applies to all stripes of politicians: liberals, conservatives or any others.
    It is also true that a new look at the constitutional allowance of arms for all needs to be addressed. It was not possible for our forefathers to imagine the kinds of guns available to 2001 population. We can and should limit what arms we have the right to bear. Maybe no semi-automatic or automatic weapons is the right place to limit what I, the citizen, have the right to possess. There can be no logical argument that it is for my protection or for hunting or for any other legitimate purpose. Yes, it will be true that some advocates see this as “just the beginning” of eliminating the right to bear arms. It is time to limit arms ownership.

  18. Just for the record…..It would never have occurred to me to make ANY political comment on this piece until I read what Ken wrote at the end of it.

    Let’s dial back the hate speech

    Followed by: The constant drumbeat of militant rhetoric may be just what it takes to send folks like him over the edge.

    Using the tongue-in-cheek example of all the words we now needed to ban to keep crazy people from going over the edge, I made the point.

    I love this site and the work Ken is doing and that he is sharing it with us all.
    Ken knows that I do and that I regularly do what I can to help drive other Cape people to his site.

    But, I will not stand back when the very idea of vigorous political debate and opposition; the core of our freedoms; is used as a weapon to silence one side or the other.

    1. Susan,

      I appreciate your readership and your support.

      I dropped out of our dialog when it became clear that we not only weren’t aiming at the same target, we weren’t even at the same rifle range, to use your tongue-in-cheek metaphor.

      I was hoping this tragic event would bring us all together, but it’s clear from the comments I’ve read on news sites and blogs that it ain’t gonna happen.

      You’re welcome to one last comment, then let’s both agree to move on.

  19. Thanks Ken. You are doing a great job! My five years at SEMO (1970-75) were good ones. While I didn’t attend CHS, I enjoy the postings about student life in the 60’s.

    After living in Austin, TX (pop. 1M +) for the last 35 years, I have come to appreciate even more the intangible things that a smaller city the size of Cape has to offer. I hope it’s citizens don’t take them for granted. Your blog is a window to the community.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Steve, I never spent any time in Austin, but I worked with a bunch of folks who came from or went to The American Statesman.

      Most of them had good things to say about the area.

      As far as being a window to the community, some days it needs washing, and it may be getting a little wavy like old glass tends to do when it sags.

  20. Nice try, Ken. Honestly.
    Funny how the same groups that insist that so many of others’ problems originate in the lack of so-called personal responsibility exhibit those exact same traits.

  21. The Safeway where Giffords was shot is a mile from my house, my wife was on her way up there to shop just after it happened and was turned around by the police. She stopped on the way out to talk to a neighbor or would have been there when it happened, kind of scary.

  22. When one speaks from the heart from one’s own experience, as you do, I listen, whether it is a bit of pleasant memories or a larger commentary on the more painful aspects of our society. Thank you.

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