Political Violence in America.


Political violence struck in Pakistan today, where a prominent politician was gunned down for his opposition to the country's blasphemy laws:

Salmaan Taseer, who was governor of Pakistan's most-populous Punjab province, was attacked in Kohsar Market, a strip mall in the heart of one of Islamabad's toniest neighborhoods as he got into his car after lunch.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik told local television the attacker, who he named as Malik Mumtaz Qadri, was a member of Mr. Taseer's elite forces security detail. Mr. Qadri allegedly shot repeatedly into Mr. Taseer's silver Honda Civic before giving himself up to police, the minister said. The attacker later told police he shot Mr. Taseer because of his views on removing Pakistan's blasphemy laws, according to Mr. Malik.

This is just a quick musing, but it's worth noting the extent to which political violence is virtually nonexistent in the contemporary United States. The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981 was the last incident of major political violence. Since then, the odds of violence or injury for a major elected official have dropped dramatically.

I say it's worth noting because political violence was once a regular feature of American life; in the 20th century, four presidents survived assassination attempts, while two -- William McKinley and John Kennedy -- were victims. In the 19th century, violence claimed two presidents: Abraham Lincoln and James Garfield, while Andrew Jackson survived an assassination attempt. Attempts have been made on the lives of presidential candidates, some successful -- like the assassination of Robert Kennedy -- and others, like the attempt on George Wallace, less so. Dozens of elected officials have been violently attacked over the course of American history, and dozens more have been killed (including 24 officials in the Reconstruction South). And of course, this is to say nothing about periods of widespread mob violence, and violence against prominent social leaders, like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

It's impossible to say whether we'll see a renewed spike in political violence, but it suffices to say that this current period is remarkably calm, and something of an achievement.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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