Daniel Hernandez, a 20-year-old intern who had only worked a week for Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords, has been called a hero for his sharp and quick thinking, but also for his bravery and human empathy. He is being credited with helping to save Giffords’ life after she was shot in the head by a gunman. Hernandez has said he isn’t a hero, that people like Giffords who dedicate their lives to public service are the heroes. While that may be true, the first part of what he said was completely false. Hernandez is indeed a hero, an almost superhuman variable in an era of weak humanity. When I say superhuman I do not mean physical strength; I mean the emotionality of the human condition is in him so ferociously that it is hard not to be a bit moved when it comes to recounting the events that happened over the weekend in Arizona. He is not only a hero to the nation, but to all young, gay, and Latino males. It’s very telling of a person’s own candor and grace that one should be so willing to run into the face of danger to aid relative strangers. How many of us can truthfully say that we would have reacted the same way?
It’s difficult to even imagine such wherewithal, such poignant and immediate action that it must have taken Hernandez to run to the scene of the shooting. What is more astounding is the distance in which he had been, some 30 feet away from the massacre. To run in that direction after hearing the blasts of firearms is a terrifically asinine thing to do, or so it would seem to most. If I were in that situation I don’t know what I would do, but it is unlikely I would’ve stepped in with such velocity. I don’t know that to be completely accurate, and hopefully I never have to find out. But the fact of the matter is, it’s a very dangerous world out there. What is the correct response to public acts of violence? NPR’s Can I Just Tell You? discussed a recent incident in a Washington D.C. Metrorail station where two teens attacked a man while passersby witnessed the attack yet did nothing. It is even more startling that the incident was able to be recorded and posted to YouTube. NPR commentator Michel Martin’s disgust at the prospect of this seemingly random act of violence has the most minute parallel with this event. Both appear to be random acts of violence. However, where at the Metro station people stood by not doing anything (in fact, some were making light of the event by laughing), this shooting in Arizona happened out in the open. Although several heroes came from it, many people who were at the same coordinates as Hernandez, through no fault of their own, fled the scene as quickly as possible, I’m sure.
However, this fight or flight instinct that exists in people is something that is telling of a greater truth, and I can’t help but feel I might have reacted much in the same way as the commuters from D.C. than run to the aid of the man as someone like Hernandez might have. However, the gross distinction between these events is arisen when it is known that seemingly random is not the word we have been able to attach to this incident. The shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, had been planning the attack and had met with Rep. Giffords three years prior. This authentic terrorist, mentally unstable or not, was acting on a mixture of white-hot rhetoric, misplaced rage and even more misplaced political leanings.
There is also a sad irony at play here, seeing as though Hernandez is Mexican-American, and after all this did happen in Arizona. He could potentially (and foolishly) be questioned by the authorities on his legal status, and although his heroic acts are paramount of the overly vague ideology of American good will, he is the other target in this discussion.
The effects of this no doubt catalytic event will soon be known. However, what is obvious to all is that Daniel Hernandez is more than just a good Samaritan. He is a good human being.