All Americans and all people of goodwill throughout the world were once again shocked by the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last weekend in Tucson, Arizona that left six persons dead and 14 others injured. What type of madness would lead to such violence? Was it an "isolated" incident? Or was this just the latest manifestation of a growing and evolving social and political problem that has been lingering for the last 50 years or more in the United States?
Our prayers are with the family members of all the victims of the Tucson shootings. President Barack Obama was correct to point out that what happened to Congresswoman Giffords and to the other victims in Arizona impacts all Americans and the outcry for challenging this type of violence is near universal.
Of course, the African American community has known for hundreds of years the bitter taste and awful pain of the violence from rightwing extremists who have murdered, assassinated, lynched, and inflicted all kinds of other forms of deadly violence on our communities. These extremists are not contained in one single age group or geographical region. What unites many them is their hatred for political, economic, racial, and social progress that would make our society more just, inclusive, equal or fair. In addition to Black Americans being targeted for racial and political violence, there were also many White Americans who were also slain by rightwing haters.
This is not about Democrats, Republicans or Independents. Rightwing extremists are a danger to all people who want freedom, justice, and equality. It is somewhat of a national shame that is always take another violent, senseless tragedy like the Tucson violence to "temporarily" re-awaken a national sense of moral outrage that may lead to some changes in the overall social consciousness of the majority of Americans to demand an end to this type of violence.
Tucson was not an isolated event. I know that there are some pundits in the media who have cautioned not to jump to conclusions or to point fingers before a thorough investigation is completed. The problem is made more complicated by those who recommend silence and the avoidance of any statement that will further polarize our society. Yet, it is similar to the hidden national debate about race. A refusal to issue a call out for a deeper understanding and analysis of the undergirding causes of extremist violence in America will only lead to more deadly incidents.
The truth is those who pulled the pin out of hate-filled grenades and tossed those rhetorical grenades into the public square do have to be held accountable. Deranged radio talk show hosts and far rightwing TV commentators, as well as some of the politicians that they support, all have to be held accountable for contributing to the current national climate across the nation that promotes nothing more that hateful vitriol at those who desire more progressive change in America. No, this is not about freedom of speech. This is about hatred in one of its worst forms. In fact, rightwing extremism is so prevalent and extensive today that it may appear to some to be just a natural backlash to the progress that has been accomplished during the last 50 years toward a more just and equitable society.
In several weeks there will be a 40 year anniversary gathering in my home state of North Carolina in the city of Wilmington. It will be the 40 anniversary of the Wilmington, NC Ten. Back in February of 1971, a paramilitary group of rightwing extremists known at that time as the ROWP (Rights of White People) organization violently attacked the African American community around the issues of public school desegregation. Two persons died during the crisis and dozens were wounded from gunshots. Nixon was the President at that time and 10 of us who survived the ROWP extremist attack wound up being falsely accused, prosecuted and sentenced to a combined total of 282 years imprisonment. It took us a decade to prove our innocence and the Wilmington Ten case became an internationally known human rights case during the 1970s.
The point here, however, is that there continues to be numerous examples of how rightwing extremist violence is tolerated in the United States no matter who the victims may be. Hopefully this time there will be more than enough of righteous indignation from the majority of people of goodwill to make an effective challenge to this violence. More domestic terrorism will be the unfortunate consequence of societal indifference in the wake of the Tucson shootings. Let's not fall back to sleep on this matter. We must work to end the violence of the extreme rightwing.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis is Senior Advisor for the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and President of Education Online Services Corporation.