Increasing violence against public officials change scope for aspiring government students.
BY ERICA MUNISAR, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
On May 15, an individual entered the District Office of Rep. Gerry Connolly, who represents Mason in the 11th District, specifically requesting to see the congressman. However, when he found that the congressman was absent, he proceeded to attack his staffers with a baseball bat leaving windows broken and two women staff members with non-life threatening injuries. One of the injured staff members was an intern for Rep. Connolly. Mason students located near D.C. aspiring to work in government have been left with fears following increased violence to public officials.
The suspect responsible for the attack was later identified as Xuan Kha Tran Pham who was charged with malicious wounding and aggravated malicious wounding. According to AP News, Pham’s family claimed the suspect suffered from mental health issues. It should be noted that Pham additionally had a previous charge of assault on a law enforcement officer which was later dropped due to a mental health crisis.
Violence against government officials have ticked up in the past years according to AP News in which nearly 10,000 threats to public officials were investigated by U.S. Capitol Police during the year of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Notable recent examples include the Jan. 6 insurrection caused by former supporters of Donald Trump, resulting in injuries and fatalities among federal police, as well as a republican member home invasion at former democrat speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s residence leaving her husband with severe head injuries.
Rep. Connolly said in an interview that he was not sure if the attack was politically motivated. “I have no reason to believe that his motivation was politically motivated, but it is possible that the sort of toxic political environment we all live in, you know, set him off,” said Rep. Connolly.
“This morning, an individual entered my District Office armed with a baseball bat and asked for me before committing an act of violence against two members of my staff…Right now, our focus is on ensuring they are receiving the care they need. We are incredibly thankful to the City of Fairfax Police Department and emergency medical professionals for their quick response.”
“My District Office staff make themselves available to constituents and members of the public every day. The thought that someone would take advantage of my staff’s accessibility to commit an act of violence is unconscionable and devastating.” said Rep. Connolly.
The Schar School of Policy and Government at Mason, situated in Fairfax and Arlington, is home to around 1,800 undergraduate and graduate students which provides students opportunities to work in the heart of D.C.
According to their page, “George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government prepares undergraduate and graduate students to be leaders and managers who solve problems and advance the public good in all sectors and levels of government.” said Schar. “Located where policy happens—just 3 miles from the Pentagon, 4 miles from The White House, and 6 miles from the U.S. Capitol Building—students are connected to jobs, internships, networking, and experiences that can only be found in the Washington, D.C., area.”
Mason students who work in D.C. are impacted by violence being brought into their local offices.
“As someone aspiring to work long-term in public service, I won’t lie: This is terrifying.” said sophomore Evanna Koury, who was a Legislative Intern with Rep. Connolly’s Capitol Hill Office in Washington, D.C. and Government major at Mason.
Koury shared risks of working in government such as having to carry a bulletproof shield in her backpack to work among warning messages from her parents. “When I worked on The Hill, my family would text reminders to be safe because of the reports of violence against Hill staff during my time as an intern. I carried a bulletproof shield in my backpack to work every day. I didn’t wear my badge outside of the Capitol complex as a security measure to identify myself to strangers as an employee of the House of Representatives.” said Koury.
“We need to protect our public service workers, especially because they work tirelessly to protect us.”
Dean of Schar School of Policy and Government Mark Rozell notes that attacks against government officials are on the rise. “There has been an astonishing rise in physical attacks on public officials and their employees in recent years. One study documents about a 400% increase in the past six years. As shocking as this attack is, it is one of far too many in this country, due in many cases to hyper-polarization of political views, overheated rhetoric by some leaders and in social media and some cable news programs.”
Despite fears of safety, Rozell encourages students thinking of government work to pursue their careers. “Don’t be deterred, be even more determined to follow your passion. Serving in government is an honorable calling. This country needs the talents of all of our students who aspire to serve and to effect positive change.” said Rozell.
Mason will continue to serve as a university close to D.C. for students aspiring to work in government, regardless of increasing dangers in the field.