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Blame debate rages over Tucson shooting

10 January 11 08:02
Tributes outside Gabrielle Giffords office in Tucson, Arizona (10 Jan 2011)
By Jonny Dymond
BBC News, Tucson

Four US Marshals guard the house of US district judge Cindy Jorgenson, checking the bags, identification and cars of those who draw up outside her house, a 25-minute drive from Tucson.

She spent Sunday trying to work out how to deal with the court cases that her friend and colleague Judge John Roll was no longer going to be able to hear.

Judge Roll was killed on Saturday, one of six fatalities of the mayhem that erupted in Tucson on what should have been a normal weekend.

Cindy Jorgenson is calm and collected: she speaks warmly of Judge Roll and says she is reassured by the presence of the US Marshals, 25 or so yards (metres) away.

But there is no echo inside her house of the debate bouncing around the US blogs, radio and television shows, about whether or not there was a political element to the violence.

"It doesn't, from my perspective, have anything to do with the often polarising world of politics," she says.

"From what I can see from the media this appears to have been a very unstable person. From my perspective it doesn't seem that this incident has anything to do with the political arena."

For all the talk of a polarised America, she points out one salient - and under the circumstances tragic - irony: Judge Roll, a conservative Republican, died on Saturday because he went out of his way to say hello to his centrist Democratic friend, Representative Gabrielle Gifford.

Almost as soon as the news of the shootings came out, some in Washington - and many on Twitter and on blogs - were pondering a link between the anger and polarisation apparent in today's American polity and the attempted assassination of a Democratic congresswoman in a state with highly charged politics.

When Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik spoke on Saturday evening he did not hold back.

"The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. This has not become the nice United States of America that most of us grew up in and I think it's time that we do the soul-searching."

But few in Tucson seem as sure the sheriff.

'No evidence'

After one of the many vigils - small, solemn and moving - that cropped up in the city after the shooting lawyer Tom Aguilera, 49, stood in the sunshine of a colonnaded courtyard, dwarfed by the office blocks of downtown.

He said he did think of politics, and of the charged nature of American political life, immediately after he heard of the shootings. But he dismissed it.

"I don't have any evidence that that's what motivated this person's conduct. I don't know that our Sheriff Dupnik had any evidence of that.

"There is polarisation but I don't think that in 2011 that it's unique. It's been around since frankly our country started."

Others at the vigil - unlikely conservatives, to say the least - agree: they may be dismayed by the anger and virulence of political discourse in America, but they do not connect it with the shootings of Saturday morning.

The police appear to believe that Gabrielle Giffords was the primary and pre-planned target of the shootings. But six others were killed, after, according to one witness, Congresswoman Giffords had been shot in the head.

One of those killed was Christina Taylor-Green, born on 11 September 2001.

And in amongst the raging debate all around the US over why this tragedy occurred, some in Tucson ponder in what possible way the sound and fury over budget deficits and health care reform could be connected to the snuffing out, on a sunny Saturday morning, of the life of a nine-year-old girl.

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