Legislative violence

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A political cartoon depicting Preston Brooks's attack on Charles Sumner, an example of legislative violence.

Legislative violence broadly refers to any violent clashes between members of a legislature, often physically inside the legislature and triggered by divisive issues and tight votes. Such clashes have occurred in many countries across time, and notable incidents still regularly occur.

Although the sight of brawling politicians is incongruous with a legislature's stately image, its occupants, like in any other workplace, are still prone to stress and anger. The confrontational nature of politics and the high stakes often add to the simmering tensions.[1]

Ancient Rome[edit]

Morte de Césare (Death of Caesar) by Vincenzo Camuccini

Roman general and dictator Julius Caesar was famously assassinated by a group of senators on the Ides of March, 44 BC during a meeting of the Roman Senate. The senators, led by Cassius and Brutus and calling themselves Liberatores, had conspired in secret to kill Caesar and considered various ways to do so. Ultimately, they decided to kill him during a meeting of the senate, since only senators would be allowed in the meeting and Caesar would be alone. The senators drafted a fake petition requesting that Caesar hand over power to senate; Caesar called a meeting of the senate to read it. When Caesar met the senators at the Theatre of Pompey, they stabbed him repeatedly with daggers concealed under their togas, killing him. Caesar's assassination lead to a civil war for control of the republic, ending ultimately with the rise of Caesar Augustus and the founding of the Roman Empire.

Bolivia[edit]

Unknown date, 2007

In 2007 a fight broke out in the lower chamber of the national legislature of Bolivia, the Chamber of Deputies. The fight erupted during a debate over whether or not to try four judges on corruption charges.[2][3]

Estonia[edit]

5 February 1929

During a session of the Riigikogu, the Farmers' Assemblies accused Minister of Education and Welfare Leopold Johanson of Socialist Workers' Party of accepting bribes. Artur Tupits of the Farmers' Assemblies then slapped Johanson in the face twice, until the two were separated. Disturbances continued on the next day. Tupits was then arrested for two months. His name inspired a new expression for a brawl in Estonian (tupitsat tegema, similar to the earlier expression tuupi tegema).[4]

India[edit]

Tamil Nadu[edit]

26 March 1989

Riots broke out in the state legislative assembly in Tamil Nadu over a vote.[5]

Uttar Pradesh[edit]

22 October 1997

Riots broke out in the state legislative assembly in Uttar Pradesh with MLAs using microphones, chairs as weapons.[6][7]

Maharashtra[edit]

10 November 2009

A member of the legislative assembly has been assaulted on 10 November 2009 in the state assembly. One of the members 'who can't speak Marathi' took oath in Hindi, one of the official languages of India. This was objected to by a right wing party Maharashtra Navanirmana Samithi, that wants Marathi to be the official language in the state. Four members of the Maharashtra Navaniramana Samithi were immediately suspended for 4years.[8]

Mexico[edit]

1 December 2006

Hours before the scheduled Oath of Office ceremony for Felipe Calderón in the Legislative Palace, the legislature erupted in a brawl. It was the latest installment of the string of fistfights that rattled the Mexican legislature. The incident was broadcast on live television. In spite of such events the ceremony took place. Calderón entered the Congress chamber through a back door directly onto the podium, and in a quick ceremony took the Oath of Office amid jeers. Then, after singing the national anthem which silenced the opposition for a while, he took a quick exit rather than deliver his inaugural address to Congress (the traditional follow-up to the oath taking).[9][10]

Nigeria[edit]

22 June 2010

A fight broke out in the National Assembly of Nigeria after a group of members were suspended for accusing the speaker of corruption.[11][12]

South Korea[edit]

There have been several events of legislative violence in South Korea. However the politicians who were involved in the violence often don't receive criminal penalties under the civil laws.[13][14]

2 March 1998

During a vote to approve Kim Jong-pil as Prime Minister, Grand National Party legislators submitted blank ballots to demonstrate their disapproval. A fight broke out after supporters of the ruling coalition of Kim Dae-jung demanded that the vote be declared void.[15]

12 March 2004

During a National Assembly vote on the motion to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun, supporters of the President openly clashed with opposition MPs for 20 minutes in an effort to stop the vote (which was in favor of impeachment) from being finalized.[16]

22 July 2009

A brawl broke out as The National Assembly passed three bills that is set to reform the media industry. Opposition MPs blocked the Speaker from entering the room to pass the bills while both sides clashed. The bills were eventually passed by the Deputy Speaker.[17][18]

8 December 2010

A brawl broke out as the Grand National Party forcefully passed the year 2011 budget bill in advance without the presence of the opposition parties.[19][20]

Peru[edit]

The Congress of the Republic of Peru has been in many violence acts through the years.

1988

When Peru had a bicameral legislature, member of congress Rómulo León (APRA) tried to grab and punch his colleague Fernando Olivera (FIM) because Olivera was accusing him of having secret bank accounts in a Swiss bank. He was suspended 120 days from Congress.

August 1998

After Alberto Fujimori dissolved Congress and approved a unicameral legislature, Congressman Javier Diez Canseco decided to finish a heated discussion with a fujimorist congressman with a punch in the jaw. He was suspended 120 days from the legislature for the violent act.

26 July 2000

On the oath day, Congressmen threw coins to their colleague Roger Cáceres because they were accusing him of being a turncoat for moving to the government party Peru 2000. His son Roger Cáceres Pérez (also a Congressman) insulted the coin throwers.

August 2006

Congresswomen Nancy Obregón and Elsa Malpartida did not approve the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. For that reason, they tried to escape punching and kicking the Congress security. They were suspended 120 days from the legislature for the violent acts.

May 2011

Congressman Víctor Andrés García Belaúnde accused his colleague Luis Wilson of having members of his family working for a national hospital with high salaries. Luis Wilson started to defy García Belaúnde's accusations, then he went to his desk and started insulting and tried to fight with him, but his colleague's prevented it.

Taiwan[edit]

The Legislative Yuan of the Republic of China (Taiwan) is probably the most notable modern example of legislative violence. In the history of the Legislative Yuan, numerous violent acts have occurred during parliamentary sessions. It is popularly referred locally as "Legislative Brawling" (立委群毆). In 1995, the Legislative Yuan was presented with the Ig Nobel Prize Peace Award, for "demonstrating that politicians gain more by punching, kicking and gouging each other than by waging war against other nations." Listed below are the most current brawlings in the Legislative Yuan of Taiwan.

23 March 2004

A serious scuffle broke out between the ruling and opposition party members after an argument over vote recounts from the presidential election.[21]

7 May 2004

Lawmakers Chu Hsing-yu and Lai Ching-teh got into a brawl over legislative procedures. TV stations showed Chu grabbing Lai and trying to wrestle him onto a desk. He then tried to headbutt his colleague before jabbing him in the stomach. The brawl resulted in having a traffic policeman called into the chamber to test Chu's alcohol level, after he was accused of being drunk. The tests showed no sign of alcohol influence.[22]

26 October 2004

During a debate on a military hardware purchase ordinance, the opposition and ruling party engaged in a food fight after a disagreement broke out.[23]

DPP deputy Wang Shu-hui chewing up a proposal to halt voting on direct transport links with Mainland China.
30 May 2006

Amid a proposal about creating direct transport links with Mainland China, DPP deputy Wang Shu-hui snatched the written proposal and shoved it into her mouth. Opposition members failed to get her to cough it up by pulling her hair. She later spat the proposal out and tore it up. This is the third time that the DPP’s actions have stopped a vote over this issue.

During the incident another DPP member, Chuang Ho-tzu, spat at an opposition member.[24]

8 May 2007

Two dozen members overwhelmed the Speaker's podium, which became a free-for-all between the ruling (DPP) and opposition (KMT) parties with punches and sprayed water, requiring at least one hospitalization. The fight was over an alleged delay of the annual budget.[25]

Ukraine[edit]

27 April 2010

A debate on extending Russia's lease of the naval base in the Black Sea in exchange for cheaper oil descended into a mass brawl, involving smoke bombs, eggs and general fighting among members. The Speaker had to be escorted from the chamber, covered by umbrellas.[26]

24 May 2012

Violent scuffles broke out in the Ukrainian parliament on 24 May 2012 during a debate over a bill which would allow the official use of Russian language in certain parts of the country.[27]

United Kingdom[edit]

In the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, the government and the opposition are separated by red lines drawn on the carpet. The red lines in front of the two sets of benches are two sword-lengths apart[28] (or a little more than two sword-lengths apart[29]); a Member is traditionally not allowed to cross the line during debates, supposedly because the Member might then be able to attack an individual on the opposite side. These procedures were made because the Members were allowed to carry weapons into the House in its founding days.[1]

1972

During a dispute over the conduct of British soldiers on Bloody Sunday, Independent Socialist MP Bernadette Devlin punched the Conservative Party Home Secretary Reginald Maudling. Her aggression was in response to the comments made by Maudling, who was maintaining that the British Army had fired at Bloody Sunday protesters in self-defence, contrary to the testimonies of civilian eyewitnesses (including Devlin herself). She argued that she was being denied the right to speak. Her actions resulted in her being banned from the House of Commons for six months.

1976

In the aftermath of a rancorous debate with Labour MPs over the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, Conservative Michael Heseltine was enraged by a group who began singing The Red Flag. He seized the chamber's ceremonial mace and brandished it over his head, but was restrained by Jim Prior, and after his departure legislative action was suspended for the day.[30]

United States[edit]

February 15, 1798
Congressional Pugilists, a 1798 political cartoon depicting the fight between Griswold and Lyon.

Federalist Congressman Roger Griswold of Connecticut attacked Vermont Representative Matthew Lyon with a hickory walking stick in the chambers of the United States House of Representatives. Griswold struck Lyon repeatedly about the head, shoulders and arms, while Lyon attempted to shield himself from the blows. Lyon then turned and ran to the fireplace, took up a pair of metal tongs, and having armed himself thus returned to the engagement. Griswold then tripped Lyon and struck him in the face while he lay on the ground, at which point the two were separated. After a break of several minutes, however, Lyon unexpectedly pursued Griswold again with the tongs, and the brawl was re-ignited.

The two men had a prior history of conflict. On January 30 of that year, Griswold had publicly insulted Lyon by calling him a coward, and Lyon had retaliated by spitting in Griswold's face. As a result of Lyon's actions in that case, he became the first Congressman to have charges filed against him with that body's ethics committee, although he escaped censure through a vote in the House.

May 22, 1856

Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina famously assaulted Charles Sumner of Massachusetts for a previous speech of his, saying his uncle Andrew Butler took "a mistress who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean, the harlot, Slavery."[31] After having consulted with fellow South Carolina Congressman Laurence Keitt on the situation, Brooks and Keitt decided that Sumner had the social status of a "drunkard" and was thus unworthy of the traditional challenge to a duel. Brooks (accompanied by Keitt), approached and confronted Sumner as he sat writing at his desk in the almost empty Senate chamber. As Sumner began to stand up, Brooks began beating Sumner severely on the head with a thick gutta-percha cane with a gold head before he could reach his feet. Sumner was knocked down and trapped under the heavy desk (which was bolted to the floor), but Brooks continued to bash Sumner until he ripped the desk from the floor. By this time, Sumner was blinded by his own blood, and he staggered up the aisle and collapsed, lapsing into unconsciousness. Brooks continued to beat the motionless Sumner until he broke his cane, then quietly left the chamber. Several other senators attempted to help Sumner, but were blocked by Keitt, who had jumped into the aisle, brandishing a pistol and shouting, "Let them be!"[32] Keitt was censured for his actions and resigned in protest, but was overwhelmingly re-elected to his seat by his South Carolina constituency within a month.[33] For several decades following, Senators often carried walking canes and even revolvers in the Senate Chamber, fearing a similar assault.[citation needed]

February 5, 1858

Congressman Laurence Keitt of South Carolina was involved in another incident of legislative violence less than two years later, starting a massive brawl on the House floor during a tense late-night debate. Keitt became offended when Pennsylvania Congressman (and later Speaker of the House) Galusha A. Grow stepped over to the Democrat side of the House chamber while delivering an anti-slavery speech. Keitt dismissively interrupted Grow's speech to demand he sit down, calling him a "black Republican puppy". Grow indignantly responded by telling Keitt that “No negro-driver shall crack his whip over me.” Keitt became enraged and went for Grow's throat, shouting that he would "choke him for that". A large brawl involving approximately 50 representatives erupted on the House floor, ending only when a missed punch from Rep. Cadwallader Washburn of Wisconsin upended the hairpiece of Rep. William Barksdale of Mississippi. The embarrassed Barksdale accidentally replaced the wig backwards, causing both sides to erupt in spontaneous laughter.[34][35][36] Keitt would later die of wounds following the Battle of Cold Harbor while fighting for the Confederacy.[33]

February 24, 1887

The Indiana General Assembly experienced a massive brawl between Democrats and Republicans in the Indiana Senate and Indiana House of Representatives. The event began as an attempt by Democratic Governor Isaac P. Gray to be elected to the United States Senate and his own party’s attempt to thwart him. Gray was a former Republican who had been elected Governor by popular vote but was scorned as a turncoat by his new party, who maneuvered desperately (and unsuccessfully) to try to prevent his eligibility for the Senate seat. When Gray went over the head of the Democrats in arranging a midterm election for a new Lieutenant Governor, Republican Robert S. Robertson was elected with a majority of the popular vote, a situation the Democrats refused to accept despite a ruling from the Indiana Supreme Court. The matter came to a head when Robertson attempted to enter the Senate chamber to be sworn in and take his seat presiding over the session; he was attacked, beaten, and thrown bodily from the chamber by the Democrats, who then locked the chamber door, beginning four hours of intermittent mass brawling that spread throughout the Indiana Statehouse. The fight ended only after Republicans and Democrats began brandishing pistols and threatening to kill each other and the Governor was forced to deploy the Indianapolis Police Department to restore order. Subsequently, the Republican controlled House of Representatives refused to communicate with the Democratic Senate, ending the legislative session and leading to calls for United States Senators to be elected by popular vote.

February 20, 1902

During a debate on a bill dealing with the Philippine Islands, Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina accused Senator John L. McLaurin of South Carolina of "treachery" for siding with the Republicans in support of Philippine Annexation, and alleged that McLaurin had been granted control of government patronage in South Carolina. Upon receiving word of this statement, McLaurin entered the Senate Chamber and denounced Tillman, upon which Tillman attacked him. During the fight, other senators were hit by the punches. As a result, the Senate went into closed session to debate the matter. Both senators apologized to the Senate, but almost came to blows immediately thereafter. On February 28, the Senate voted 54 to 12, with 22 abstentions, to Censure both Tillman and McLaurin. McLaurin did not seek reelection, while Tillman served in the Senate until 1918.

June 7, 2007

During the final day of the 2007 regular session of the Alabama State Senate Republican Sen. Charles Bishop of Jasper punched Democratic Sen. Lowell Barron of Fyffe in the head before the two were pulled apart.[37][38]

June 15, 2011

During a vote of California budget state Assemblymen Warren Furutani and Don Wagner broke out in a fight over a comment Wagner made that Furutani deemed offensive.[39]

European Parliament[edit]

In 1988 when Pope John Paul II addressed the European Parliament, Ian Paisley, then an MEP, denounced him as the Antichrist and was subjected to booing by fellow MEPs who also threw objects at him; Otto von Habsburg was among those who helped physically eject him from the room.

Venezuela[edit]

April 30, 2013

During a session of the National Assembly (Venezuela) members of the government and opposition got into a fight. The origin of the discussion had to do with the rejection by National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello to give members of the opposition a right to speak. [40]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "When politicians attack...", BBC News, March 23, 2004
  2. ^ "Fights in Bolivian parliament". BBC News. 28 October 2008. 
  3. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjMeQoIq36c
  4. ^ "Kähmlus Riigikogus" - "XX sajandi kroonika - I osa 1900-1940" (2002), lk. 319.
  5. ^ "Riot in Indian State Assembly". The New York Times. 1989-03-26. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  6. ^ YouTube - Brawl In Uttar Pradesh State assembly , India
  7. ^ "Indian Government Ousts State Leaders". 1997-10-22. 
  8. ^ The Times Of India http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2009-11-10/india/28082548_1_abu-asim-azmi-oath-taking-vasant-gite |url= missing title (help). 
  9. ^ "Mexican Congress in brawl before inauguration". CNN. 1 December 2006.
  10. ^ "Mexican lawmakers brawl in Congress before Felipe Calderon takes oath of office". USA Today. 1 December 2006. 
  11. ^ "Corruption row sparks fight in Nigerian parliament". Reuters. 22 June 2010. 
  12. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLWCgq4LPA8
  13. ^ `국회는 폭력 특권지대`…일부만 형사처벌 2010-12-08 Yonhap News
  14. ^ http://www.yonhapnews.co.kr/society/2010/12/08/0702000000AKR20101208206300004.HTML
  15. ^ Kim, Y. (2011) The Politics of Coalition in South Korea. Taylor & Francis, p. 55.
  16. ^ "South Korean president impeached", BBC News, March 12, 2004
  17. ^ "S Korean politicians in mass brawl". BBC News. 22 July 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-22. 
  18. ^ Evan Ramstad, SungHa Park (22 July 2009). "Media Reform Bills Ignite Brawl in South Korean Parliament". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-07-22. 
  19. ^ GNP rams through W309tr budget 2010-12-08
  20. ^ South Korean parliament descends into mass brawl
  21. ^ "Taiwan leader denies vote-rigging", BBC News, March 23, 2004
  22. ^ "Taiwan politicians brawl over procedure", BBC News, May 7, 2004
  23. ^ "Taiwanese MPs hold a food fight", BBC News, October 26, 2004
  24. ^ "Taiwan deputy halts vote by chomping China proposal", Reuters, May 30, 2006
  25. ^ Taiwanese MPs in parliament brawl, BBC News, May 8, 2007
  26. ^ "Fighting breaks out in Ukraine's parliament". The Guardian (London). 27 April 2010. 
  27. ^ "Brawl erupts in Ukraine parliament over Russian language bill". The Daily Telegraph (London). 24 May 2012. 
  28. ^ "Foreign News: Off the Carpet". Time Magazine. 10 June 1935. Retrieved 28 July 2010. 
  29. ^ "Foreign News: Renovated Bottle". Time Magazine. 6 November 1950. Retrieved 28 July 2010. 
  30. ^ "Mace - Commons", BBC News, published December 22, 2005, accessed June 25, 2007.
  31. ^ Senate Historical Office. "The Caning of Senator Charles Sumner". Historical Minutes. The United States Senate. Retrieved March 27, 2010. 
  32. ^ Donald, David Herbert Charles Sumner and the Coming Civil War New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960, pp.293-96
  33. ^ a b KEITT, Laurence Massillon, (1824 - 1864)
  34. ^ Allan L. Damon (December 1975). "Filibuster". American Heritage Magazine 27 (1). 
  35. ^ http://www.americanheritage.com/content/filibuster
  36. ^ Congressional Globe. 35th Cong., 1st sess. 8 February 1858. 603.
  37. ^ "Republican Punches Democrat in Alabama Senate Chamber". Fox News. 8 June 2007. 
  38. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlXKBribICs
  39. ^ Hanes, Kristin & Cox, Teri (June 15, 2011). "Fight Breaks out on California Assembly Floor during Budget Talks". KTLA. Retrieved January 6, 2012. 
  40. ^ "Venezuela MPs in punch-up over disputed election". BBC. May 1, 2013. Retrieved May 2, 2013.