Fifty years ago today—on November 22, 1963—President John F. Kennedy was murdered while riding in an open-air motorcade in Dallas.
Moments after he was shot, First Lady Jackie Kennedy climbed atop the back of the car in what has now become an iconic photograph. According to several witnesses, she did so in order to recover pieces of her husband’s skull, which had been blown onto the trunk. “They have killed my husband,” she said. “I have his brains in my hand.”
Less than five years later, civil rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Two months later, Robert Kennedy was killed after winning California’s 1968 Democratic presidential primary.
In 1972, Democratic presidential candidate and Alabama Governor George Wallace was paralyzed by a would-be assassin’s bullet.
In September 1975, two women tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford on two separate occasions.
In 1978, a gunman murdered San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk.
In March 1981, John Hinckley, Jr. came perilously close to murdering President Ronald Reagan.
In January 2011, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords fought for her life after being shot in the head at a Tucson “meet the candidate” event.
We live in a nation with a bloody history of violence against political figures. Before Kennedy, Presidents Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, and William McKinley were also murdered while serving in office.
So on this 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death, I’d like to make a plea to politicians, pundits, and other fellow citizens to forever swear off any use of violent words or images against their political rivals. As an example, you may remember that Sarah Palin was embroiled in controversy for having sent out this “crosshairs” flier months before the Giffords shooting, which mentioned her by name and placed crosshairs over her district.
To be clear, there is no evidence linking this flier and the shooting. Sarah Palin was not to blame. I offer it only as an example of violent imagery.
But given America’s violent history, similarly violent words and images should be shunned — not solely because they can inspire violence, but also because they show an utter disrespect and disregard for those who have served in a public position and paid the ultimate price for having done so.
The next time you see politicians or partisans using violent images or words, think of 34-year-old Jackie Kennedy crawling on top of that vehicle in Dallas to gather pieces of her husband’s brain. Then, use your voice to condemn them for their historical ignorance and stunning insensitivity.
Do you have an opinion about this topic? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.