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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Obama pushes for unity in wake of shootings

President of the United States Barack Obama
President of the United States Barack Obama

Standing before an audience of more than 13,000 in McKale Center, with an almost equal number watching via video from the nearby Arizona Stadium, President Barack Obama took a thoughtful pause.

“”On Saturday morning, Gabby, her staff and many of her constituents gathered outside of a supermarket to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and free speech,”” he said. “”They were fulfilling a central tenant of democracy and the vision by our founders … That is the quintessentially American scene that was shattered by a gunman’s bullets.””

Obama and several high-ranking members of his cabinet were present in Tucson as part of the “”Together We Thrive: Tucson and America”” memorial event held to honor the 19 victims and six fatalities of last Saturday’s shooting spree, an attack that took the life of federal district Judge John Roll and left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition at University Medical Center.

“”There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts,”” Obama said. “”But know this. The hopes of the nation are here tonight. We mourn with you for the fallen. We join you in your grief. We add our faith to yours that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy will pull through.””

His faith was reinforced after visiting Giffords’ hospital room, when she opened her eyes for the first time since the shooting.

“”Gabby opened her eyes because she knows we are here, she knows that we love her, she knows we are there for her,”” Obama said.

Obama acknowledged the tendency of people to reflect upon their own lives in times of tragedy. But, he stressed, this reflection must lead to the understanding that “”what matters is not wealth or status or power or fame but rather how well we have loved and the role we have played in making the lives of other people better.””

He also expressed his hope that these events would spur solidarity and civility among both people and politicians.

“”At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized — at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do — it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds,”” he said as the crowd leapt to its feet and applauded.

This, he said, was particularly important in order to live up to the example set by those killed on Saturday.

He took the time to share details about each of the deceased, saying that even without any individual connections, their stories have become personal.  

“”In George (Morris) and Dot (Dorothy Morris), in Dorwan and Mavy (Stoddard), we sense the abiding love we have for our own husbands, our own wives, our own life partners. Phyllis (Schneck) — she’s our mom or grandma; Gabe (Zimmerman) our brother or son,”” he said.

He described Roll as “”a man who embodied America’s fidelity to the law”” and Giffords as “”a reflection of our public spiritedness.””

He also said he was moved by the view 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green had of the U.S.

“”I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it,”” he said. “”All of us — we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.””

Obama also thanked those who stepped forward during and in the aftermath of the shooting.

“”These men and women remind us that heroism is found not only on the field of battle,”” he said. “”They remind us that heroism does not require special training or physical strength. Heroism is here, in the hearts of our fellow citizens all around us just waiting to be summoned, as it was on Saturday morning.””

Particularly he acknowledged the efforts of Tucson medical professionals, which drew tremendous applause and cheers from the audience. He then spoke about UA political science junior Daniel Hernandez Jr., a volunteer in Giffords’ staff who was the first to give medical attention to the congresswoman after the shooting. When entering McKale Center, he made a point to greet Hernandez with a handshake.

While addressing the crowd, Hernandez rejected the “”hero”” label many have given him, saying the real heroes were the victims of the shooting and the first responders on scene.

Obama, however, believes the label fits.

“”Daniel, I am sorry, but you are a hero,”” he said, “”because you rushed through the chaos to tend to (Giffords’) wounds and keep her alive.””

An area where Obama and Hernandez agreed was their desire to see the shooting bring the people closer together.

“”One thing that we have learned from this great tragedy is that we have come together,”” Hernandez said. “”On Saturday, we all became Tucsonans. On Saturday, we all became Arizonans. But most importantly, on Saturday we all became Americans.””

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