Flint News is reporting that a Michigan antiabortion protester was shot dead today in front of a high school. The 63-year-old man has been identified as James Pouillon, "a longtime abortion protester, known for his highly vocal and visible public demonstrations around the community and even outside the state."
A suspect has been taken into custody, but it's uncertain whether the murder was related to Pouillon's anti-choice activism. If it is, then let me say very clearly: I hope they put him away forever, and I hope no one ever does something like this again. In fact, I hope for both of those things regardless of who did it or why. Lori Lamerand, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood East Central Michigan, said the same: "We want to be very clear that we have no idea if this was related to his views, but Planned Parenthood would never condone any sort of violence against anyone, regardless of their views."
Pouillon was described by one friend and fellow antiabortion activist as "just a nice, elderly gentleman who was disabled, used an oxygen tank and wore leg braces," but his tactics (shouting and carrying "graphic signs," presumably featuring gruesome fetus pictures) were considered extreme even by those sympathetic to his cause. Brenda Battle-Jordan, president of Flint Area Black Americans for Life, told Flint News, "I'm not for all that in-your-face graphic material, especially in front of schools and I haven't seen if that's what he was doing. But sometimes that's what gets the reaction to get the message out loud and clear."
"No matter what, an attack against anyone standing up for the First Amendment is always wrong. We have a right to say what we feel," added Battle-Jordan. I've written before about how antiabortion protesters often blow right past protected speech and peaceful assembly to become threatening and violent -- Pouillon himself was arrested in 1994 for harassing parents and preschool children entering a church that once held an anniversary party for the local Planned Parenthood -- so I'm not sure if this should be characterized as an attack on First Amendment freedoms. What I do know is that a violent attack on a human being is always wrong, no matter the politics of the assailant or the victim.
As I was writing this, news broke that the suspect in custody is also believed to have shot 61-year-old gravel company owner Mike Fuoss in his office this morning, so perhaps this was the work of a plain old deranged killer, not someone trying to send a message about reproductive rights. Either way, the death of Pouillon and Fuoss is a tragedy, and I can say as a staunchly pro-choice feminist that if you believe there is any good in a man's violent death, I do not want you on my side.