Freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has her share of critics across the United States, including quite a few in deep-red Louisiana, where the congresswoman’s far-left views make her a frequent target of conservative wrath.
But the best way to settle political differences is in the voting booth. If Ocasio-Cortez’s ideas come to represent the mainstream views of her party, that’s a legitimate issue for voters here and elsewhere to hash out during the 2020 elections.
Threatening an elected official with violence, though, is a civic sacrilege in a representative democracy, and it’s especially repugnant when that threat comes from an officer sworn to uphold law and order.
Little wonder, then, that Gretna police officer Charlie Rispoli attracted national attention — and widespread condemnation — for suggesting in a Facebook post that Ocasio-Cortez “needs a round, and I don’t mean the kind she used to serve.” Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson fired Rispoli Monday, along with another officer, Angelo Varisco, who had registered a "like" for Rispoli's post.
That ugly "round" pun, playing on the congresswoman’s past work as a bartender and hinting that she should be shot, showed an appalling lack of judgment.
Rispoli’s social media rant was an especially grievous lapse for a police officer who’s supposed to keep a cool head in navigating conflicts. But sadly, this hasn’t been a season to expect restraint from those in authority. President Donald Trump already placed Ocasio-Cortez at the center of controversy when he recently suggested that she and three other Democratic congresswomen of color should go back to where they came from, a racist remark that floated banishment, rather than the ballot box, as a way to resolve political conflict.
Trump’s tweetstorm seemed like the rhetorical rock bottom, but Rispoli dug the hole even deeper, arguing that a member of Congress should be silenced with a gun.
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Here in Louisiana, we have a ready lesson in what political assassination looks like. The walls of the state Capitol still bear the scars from the day in 1935 when a citizen pointed a pistol at Gov. Huey Long, setting in motion a tragedy that left the governor mortally wounded. Two summers ago, U.S. House Republican whip Steve Scalise, a Jefferson Parish Republican, narrowly avoided death when a gunman opened fire on GOP members of Congress near Washington, D.C.
American presidents have been felled by bullets, too, and in 1954, four Puerto Rican nationalists shot up the U.S. House of Representatives, wounding five members of Congress.
Such violence is a reminder that democracy is a fragile thing, an institution held together by a common commitment to civil discourse.
Officer Charlie Rispoli failed that commitment when he promoted violence against a member of Congress, and his lapse of judgment has brought shame on the community he’s supposed to serve.