The American Way?

Rep. Steve Scalise, third in the chain of command in the House of Representatives, two House staffers and two Capitol Police officers were wounded Wednesday morning, apparently by a guy from Illinois who didn’t like Republicans. The operative phrase is “didn’t like,” because police killed the shooter.

It’s OK to not like Republicans – or Democrats – but when we claim this isn’t the way we do things in this country, shooting people we don’t like, or people ostensibly on their side, should top the list. Unfortunately, it does not.

President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas, in November 1963, a year and a half before I graduated from high school. To this day, controversy swirls around whether the shooting was a conspiracy rooted in the CIA, or Russia or just a lone nut who thought it’d be a good thing to shoot the president.

Martin Luther King, at the time the nation’s premiere civil rights leader, was gunned down in April 1968

Two months later, Robert “Bobbie” Kennedy, John’s brother, was shot to death after giving a campaign speech during his run for president.

In May 1972, Governor George Wallace was shot while campaigning for president of the United States. He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. He was not elected, but I don’t think it was because he’d been shot, though he was riding high in some polls at the time of the shooting and there remains some question about whether he could have won had he not been paralyzed by that bullet.

I recall sitting in assembly in the Farmington High School gym when we were told of JFK’s shooting. I don’t remember a particular feeling; I wasn’t really into politics at that point. It wasn’t something we talked about at home.

MLK’s death was significant because of who he was, and I didn’t like he’d been assassinated, but at the time I didn’t understand the racial problems. In an effort to show white and black were equal, my mother had taught me a poem I would not realize was very racist for many years. I did not like segregation, and was pretty certain I was not a racist.

In 1968, I didn’t understand why state troopers needed to beat up a bunch of unarmed folks who wanted to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., but I also didn’t understand why black folks would burn and loot their own communities in the Los Angeles, Calif., community of Watts.

When Bobbie was killed, I don’t think I thought about it much. I was in the Navy, having too much fun traveling and playing high-tech cops-and-robbers on the taxpayer’s dime, and still had no real interest in politics.

Wallace had promised his white supporters: “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” I had learned to understand why that kind of oration appealed to many people, but I also knew why I knew it was wrong. I’d been in the world ;long enough to realize I had black friends and had dated a German girl – who did not want to come to the U.S. because we were all the time burning our homes and stores and killing people who were not white (I didn’t think of any of that until Barbara said it) – and a Thai girl.

When George Wallace was shot, I remember wondering, “Is this is the American Way? When you disagree with someone, kill the S.O.B?!”

In our system of “the majority rules,” there is no requirement that everyone agree with the ruling. But the only thing accomplished by shooting our opponents is it makes their supporters want to shoot back.

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