Students and community members gathered on the steps of Storke Plaza last Thursday to commemorate the victims of the recent shooting in Tucson, Arizona. Programs and candles were passed around in silence as they remembered the faces and names of the deceased.
At about 10 a.m. on January 8, Jared Loughner opened fire on a constituent meeting organized by U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Loughner shot nineteen people, killing six.
UCSB Associated Students organized a candlelight vigil on campus in response to this event. The atmosphere was one of compassion and unity, a stark contrast to the violent nature of the atrocity and its aftermath.
The news of the shooting sent shockwaves across the nation and incited such figures as President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner to speak on behalf of the victims. Despite the sadness and grief that filled the hearts of American citizens after the shooting, some couldn’t help but cringe at its political ramifications.
“The event made us lose our sense of freedom and democracy,” said Hazel Putney, a UCSB fourth-year student and representative of the Pueblo Action Fund. “We need to get rid of political rhetoric that is violent in nature.”
Putney’s comments highlighted the importance of respect and tolerance for one’s fellow community members. She emphasized her point by making a reference to the Minute Men, a vigilante group that was formed several years ago in California and that seeks to stop illegal immigration at all costs by patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border while heavily armed.
Putney believes the politically charged hostility that characterized the Minute Men is what produces national tragedies like the recent shooting in Tucson.
“This sort of violence needs to be dismissed and labeled as unacceptable,” she said.
Cori Lantz, the Associated Students External Vice President for Local Affairs, was in charge of organizing the vigil. Lantz said she hoped the vigil would bring students together by demonstrating their common humanity.
“I want it to be a celebration of the victims’ lives and a space for students to discuss the event without engaging in politics,” Lantz said.
Lantz said the news of the shooting made her think back to September 11, 2001, another national tragedy that affected Americans dramatically. She believed a vigil would give students the chance to express their opinions and share their experiences.
“Many people don’t know how to react to such situations. They may have no direct connection to the victims, yet they’re still overwhelmed with feelings of sadness and guilt,” Lantz said. “A candlelight vigil encourages us to be thankful for the lives we do have and the lives of others around us. It helps us focus on our similarities instead of our differences.”
First-year student Adriana Garcia attended the vigil as an assignment for her Sociology class and had first heard about the shooting when her professor mentioned the event in lecture.
“I really didn’t know much about the tragedy until I came here today and listened to the speakers,” Garcia said. “Although the event was sad and depressing, it gives students the opportunity to unite and come together like we did here today,” she said.
As the sunset faded and the shadows began creeping up Storke Tower, the ceremony came to a close. However, a soft glow remained on the faces of students and faculty and community members alike. Maybe it was the candlelight. Maybe it was something more.
Photos By: Hadas Moalem