Politics as usual in a city struggling to come to terms with its grief

As Americans mourn a national tragedy, they have also been grappling with hard questions about their ideological divide

On the street corner just outside Gabrielle Giffords' constituency office, a helium balloon slips its moorings and zigzags into the dusk sky. Passengers on a bus turn all at once, faces pressed against the windows to glimpse the scene: flickering candles, flowers and stuffed toys cram the pavement in the immediate vicinity.

Grief is a unifying force. Two days after the shooting that gravely injured the congresswoman and killed six others, Tucson residents are coming to this spot in a steady flow, to say their prayers privately, to add their own offerings to the roadside shrine or to write down their thoughts on a slip of paper provided before dropping it in a message box in the hope Ms Giffords will soon be well enough to read it.

These are people like Michelle Foutz and her sister Susan, 38, who, like others, has surrendered to tears. They would have come sooner, but Susan was in Costa Rica when the shooting happened. She recalls how empty she felt when television stations there at first reported that the congresswoman had died.

The emotions of everybody here are an open book. They are in mourning even if Ms Giffords herself is still alive. Neil Brandon, 56, has wet cheeks, too, and holds a photograph of his wife, Hang Pham, embracing the congresswoman when she showed up at the Raytheon weapons plant where they work to support a strike in 2007.

"I am just sad is all I can say," Mr Brandon says, a finger wiping an eye behind his glasses.

Tucson, home to the University of Arizona and the Wildcats basketball team, has taken a punch to its gut. Like no other time in recent memory, everyone who lives here feels compelled to unite.

Barack Obama is coming but the time for politics is not now, because politics are partly to blame here. Aren't they? And there we are – a point of contention. Everyone here on the corner of Swan and Pima seems eager to believe that to be the case, that the nasty politics of Ms Giffords' re-election campaign here last year and the incendiary rhetoric of commentators and some national leaders are somehow to be blamed for what happened. Is that the feeling of everyone in the city and in the state? Not if you scrape a little deeper. Or listen to talk radio.

Take Donna, who called in yesterday to the Jim Parisi show on KBOI Radio, The Voice. How wonderful to see Democrats and Republicans coming together for the swearing-in of the new state legislator on Monday, she says. That's unity we need. But there is just one thing she wants to add. How about that sheriff?

That would be Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who, after the shooting, not only agreed that the coarsening of political discourse was part of the problem, but then suggested it was especially so in Arizona, a state that had "become the Mecca of prejudice and bigotry". While he was at it, Mr Dupnik, a Democrat, rehearsed the case for stronger gun laws in the state that he called "the Tombstone of the United States", in a reference to the gun-and-holster justice of the old wild west.

On talk radio at least, Tucson's grieving has already more or less been pushed aside by argument. And fury. Callers were outraged at the left's suggestion that anyone aside from the suspect himself, Jared Loughner, should be blamed for the atrocity. "These are the same people who say that video games are to blame for kids who go and commit violent crimes," rages an indignant Dominic. (It is first names only in talk-radio land.) And the sheriff comes under vigorous attack. "There is just something wrong with a man coming out and saying such nasty things about our state," says Donna, one of many to take that view.

The assaults on him are coming now from the state legislature too. Representative Jack Harper, a conservative Republican, says maybe Mr Dupnik should be in the dock over the incident, because he failed to provide protection for the congresswoman at her event on Saturday. "If he would have done his job, maybe this wouldn't have happened," Mr Harper says. As for gun laws, Mr Harper would scrap them altogether. "When everyone is carrying a gun nobody is going to be a victim," he explains.

Back at the congresswoman's office, a young intern, Jonathan Kalm, is gathering all the flowers that are scattered around the car park and adding them to the makeshift shrine on the street corner. It is not the right time to ask him why these arguments can never stop, even in these days of tragedy.

But Minerva Carcano, the United Methodist Bishop of Arizona, says: "Truly, I am very grateful to Sheriff Dupnik for having the courage to address what is happening to our politics across the country. It is our culture that affects the actions of our young people. It is a factor and we must recognise it."

The debate must be had, grieving or no grieving. With that she folds the message slip she has just completed, drops it in the box and turns to go home.

The lawyer: Defender of America's most infamous

Judy Clarke

To scholars of criminal law in the United States, there is nothing surprising about the Arizona Public Defender's office reaching out to Judy Clarke to stand in as the lawyer for Jared Loughner, the 22-year-old now being held without bail and facing charges of murder and attempted assassination.

Sometimes known as the "patron saint of criminal defence attorneys", Ms Clarke has more experience than anyone in representing defendants who are unpopular nationally because their alleged crimes are especially depraved or heinous. Her client list reads like a list of America's most infamous rogues.

Based in San Diego and seen also as a fierce opponent of the death penalty, Ms Clarke served as an adviser in court to 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui (though technically he represented himself at his 2006 trial).

She went on to serve as defence counsel to Susan Smith, convicted in 1995 in the drowning deaths of her two children; Theodore Kaczynski, also known as the "Unabomber", whose devices over 20 years killed three people and injured 23 more; and Eric Rudolph, known as the "Olympic Park Bomber".

Ms Clarke made her debut appearance with Loughner at his first formal court appearance in Phoenix on Monday. She was formally appointed to represent him by the court. While she waived the right to have a bail hearing, she did make a petition that no Arizona judge should preside when Loughner comes to trial because among those killed on Saturday was John Roll, a federal judge in the state.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Barnardo's: Corporate Audit and Inspection – Retail Intern (Leeds)

Unpaid - £4 lunch allowance plus travel to and from work: Barnardo's: Purpose ...

Recruitment Genius: Content Writer - Global Financial Services

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future