Clarence Dupnik’s family and mine were neighbors in Tucson, Ariz. I was a young reporter on the Tucson Daily Citizen, and Dupnik was on the Tucson Police Department.
I once lived about five miles from the Safeway store where six people were killed, including a nine-year-old girl and federal judge. Fourteen others were wounded, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the target of the deranged assassin.
I have church connections to a man killed in the massacre. The gunman was expelled from Pima College, which was a beat I had as a reporter on the Citizen.
The tragedy happened in my hometown, although I have not lived in Tucson since 1975. I still have many friends there. I become emotional watching the news and reading the articles about it. Dupnik would not remember me if I walked up to him today, even though I interviewed him as part of my job as a reporter. It has been 35 years. Dupnik was a family man. He and I lived in a modest neighborhood, far from the more prosperous parts of Tucson. I recall he drove an unmarked police car and was a high ranking officer, which meant he was making a good salary and could probably have afforded a better address. I respected Dupnik.
From what I have seen, read and heard about him in wake of the tragedy in Tucson, I have even more respect.
He said some pretty harsh words in anger after the massacre. He is still furious because he was friends with the judge and the congresswoman. No doubt he is a grandfather and the slaughter of a nine-year-old by a madman only made him more irate. I am just as furious at what happened in a town that is special to me.
Dupnik has caught much grief and venom for his words. He has been “labeled,” unfortunately a common malady of our society. “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous,” he said. He railed about what he thought were the reasons for the lack of civility and decency in this country among people with differing opinions. He was talking as a cop, not as some left or right wing radical.
Others say video games depicting evil and horrible violence were a reason for the young gunman’s actions. Many have waded in with other reasons.
It is revealing that many who have chosen to come to their own defense exhibit the very attitude and abominable behavior Dupnik cited. Rather than acknowledging the tragedy and vowing to be introspective, they have lashed out at the sheriff and used him to spew more hatred.
Dupnik is a cop and a good one. He may be an elected official who had to register a political affiliation to run for office, but he has sworn to uphold the law and try to make his town a safe place for all people. He has been doing his job.
Dupnik’s words have been echoed by others on both sides of the political spectrum. Fortunately, some have shown exemplary wisdom and leadership in responding to what happened in Tucson. Dupnik is not backing down, and he should not. We hope more will back him up and somehow encourage a return to decency in this country and respect for each other as people. Vitriolic, personal diatribes from both sides have poisoned politics. If this country ever needed compassionate leadership backed by strong words and actions, it is now.