The Fresno Democratic Party provided leadership in the days following the tragic shooting in Tucson by organizing this candlelight vigil.

Fresno Candlelight Vigil Responds to Tucson Tragedy

Dozens of individuals from communities throughout Fresno, Madera, Tulare and Kings counties joined together in a peaceful vigil on January 11. Individuals held candles and signs with the names of the victims of the recent tragedy in Tucson. The following statement was distributed to participants by the Fresno County Democratic Central Committee (FCDCC), which coordinated the vigil.

We offer our sincere condolences to the friends, colleagues and family members of those killed and injured in the senseless and brutal tragedy that occurred on Saturday in Tucson. We wish for a full and speedy recovery for those who are injured. Our thoughts are with you.

Tonight’s vigil is about showing our support for and solidarity with the victims and families of this tragedy. It is a small gesture, but it comes from the heart.

We are committed to making our democracy work and fear that the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will cause good people to reject political service or shrink from meetings with constituents. We must also reflect on what has happened and try to ensure that it never happens again.

At least three issues come to light that should be addressed in the wake of this tragedy.

First is the easy accessibility of guns. Gun violence in this country is out of control. And we must take measures to get that under control. A young, mentally disturbed perpetrator was able to purchase a weapon and easily buy ammunition for it. We must address the prevalence of guns in our society.

Second is how we deal with persons who have mental health issues. Inevitably, one of the first areas targeted by governmental budget cuts is mental health services. The people most in need of these services have insufficient avenues for treatment and supervision. Therefore, many end up in the criminal justice system. We must make it a priority to provide the necessary services for individuals who experience mental health issues.

Finally is the climate of hate that pervades today’s political rhetoric and discourse. When one talks about crosshairs, putting people in your sights, taking people out, reloading and Second Amendment remedies, it must be understood that words have consequences. Civility defines our interaction at work, at school, at church—in almost all aspects of our lives except government and politics. Let us embrace civility so that we may better address the many problems that now face our society.

Demographically speaking, the participants looked like Fresno. They looked like the future of America.

Individuals participated from a wide range of organizations including the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indigena Oaxaqueno, Citizens for Civility and Accountability in Media, Comite Primero de Mayo, Faith in Community, the Fresno Center for Nonviolence, the Fresno County Democratic Women’s Club, Fresno State’s Associated Students, I-5 Social Services, the Kennedy Club of the San Joaquin Valley, the Kings County DCC, the Madera County DCC, the Mexican-American Political Association, the Oakhurst Democratic Club, Peace Fresno, Radio Bilingue, the San Joaquin Valley Democratic Club, Union de Ex-Braceros y de Inmigrantes, Volunteers for Change, the West Fresno Democratic Club and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

The vigil was held on a public sidewalk on the same block as the offices of KMJ radio, which is the Central Valley’s most popular conservative talk radio station.

As chair of the FCDCC, I was inevitably asked why the vigil was held at KMJ. My response was that “words have consequences.” And I did not elaborate, much to the disdain of some reporters. The vigil was not about KMJ, or talk radio, but rather the victims of the tragedy.

Although KMJ staff repeatedly denied any responsibility for the perpetrator’s actions in the Tucson tragedy, no one had actually made that allegation. When questioned about the role of KMJ, or talk radio in general, I responded that the perpetrator committed the crime, that we do not know what caused him to act and we may never know, but that does not relieve us of the responsibility to create an environment where such a tragedy is less likely to occur in the future.

One of the TV stations used the headline “A Heated Demonstration At KMJ Talk Radio” as part of its Web coverage of the vigil. That clearly did not reflect what actually occurred. The only anger I witnessed was the reporter who wrote that story being visibly upset because her predetermined narrative was not playing out. The vigil was peaceful, and the participants were clearly there first and foremost in sympathy with the victims and their families of the Tucson tragedy.

There were a number of persons there protesting the vigil. Their signage was clearly political and their motives inconsistent with the vigil. However, they were peaceful and, to my knowledge at least, no incidents occurred.

KMJ throughout the day of the vigil tried to politicize the event and asked me and other organizers to be interviewed on their talk shows. I did an interview during the station’s news program the morning of the vigil, but I and the other organizers refused to be part of their talk shows, or entertainment programming. The Tucson tragedy and our reflections on its aftermath are matters far too important to be seriously addressed as part of the often inflammatory talk format.

Although I was allowed to clearly state the case for the event during the news interview, the vigil was belittled by the announcer, who said, “I would consider this a form of intimidation…You are preventing people from potentially conducting business in our studio, buying advertising. Some would say it would be a clampdown on capitalism.” I couldn’t help but laugh. As it turned out, the media vehicles were positioned in front of KMJ, and the vigil participants ended up standing further down the block.

Although I did not listen to KMJ’s programming on the day of the vigil, there was apparently a concerted on-air effort to get me to speak with at least one of the talk show hosts, Austin Hill. Even though I had refused this request earlier that day, Hill personally called me twice and 15 or so of his listeners called to “encourage” me to be interviewed on his program. For the most part, the callers were polite.

The e-mail harangues, however, were quite a different matter. A sampling of the comments:

“Why do so many of you slimy, mentally ill, marxist cowards who hate America, our Constitution, and our 2nd Amendment own guns?”

“It is you and your ilk who regurgitate the sewage that is the leftist agenda who are the hate mongers.”

“It is you and your ilk who are most dangerous to America and its freedoms.”

“I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against ALL enemies, foreign and DOMESTIC. This means YOU!”

“You fool no one but yourselves with your phony-balogna, self-righteous, sniveling drivel. Maybe one of these days you’ll grow-up and get on board with the American plan. Until then, good luck, nimrod.”

Michael D. Evans was interviewed by Fox news.

I also had a request for an interview from Mark Riley, who has a program on a progressive radio station in New York. I turned that down as well. As I pointed out to his representative, President Barack Obama has eloquently and passionately memorialized the victims of the tragedy. Any coverage should use his words.

There was little interest shown by the local media in the vigil itself; in fact, one of the reporters told me that if it had been held in front of Gandhi’s bust on the Fresno State campus, the vigil might have gotten a one-paragraph write-up in the obituary section.

It would be irresponsible of Americans not to reflect on and learn from this horrific tragedy. Perhaps we cannot prevent a reoccurrence. But we can certainly make the effort.

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