Forty-five years ago this day on Friday, April 5 (and yes, forty-five years ago — 1968 — April 5 was, indeed, also on a Friday), in Cleveland Ohio Robert F. Kennedy spoke to an audience as he addressed events of the previous day. Following are some poignant excerpts:
This . . . is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity, my only event of today, to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.
It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one–no matter where he lives or what he does–can be certain who next will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.
Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by an assassin’s bullet.
No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of reason.
. . . whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, whenever we do this, then the whole nation is degraded.
. . . Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far-off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire whatever weapons and ammunition they desire.
Too often we honor swagger and bluster and wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of other human beings.
. . . this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.
For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.
This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all.
. . . When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies that he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your home, or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and to be mastered.
We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, alien men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in a common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this, there are no final answers.
Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.
We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of others. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.
Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in this land of ours. Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution.
But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment that they can.
Surely, this bond of common faith, surely this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.
Bobby Kennedy spoke those words on April 5, 1968, the day following the assassination in Memphis Tennessee of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Kennedy’s tribute stands today as a visceral reminiscence, an accurate definition of Dr. King’s legacy — and, in final effect his words have become a grand literary sculpture which reflects Dr. King’s intrinsic principles, his humanity.
Note too that the identical text could — very easily — have been written and/or spoken hundreds of times since, in thousands of locations across this nation, to commemorate the totally unwarranted deaths of hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of innocent Americans, each and every one of whom have become the undeserving victim(s) of wretched gun violence.
And there amongst the dead, E. Pluribus Unum within the sprawling numbers of ‘gun culture’ casualties — victims who have come to define this nation’s murderous savoir-faire — would of course be Robert F. Kennedy, the third major public figure to be assassinated by a (so-called) “lone assassin” in less than five years. RFK was shot in the early moments of June 5, 1968, in the kitchen of the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel and he died a day or so later. He had just won the Democratic Primary Election in California, and thus had likely attained the envious de facto position of Presidential favorite. Had he lived.
King’s “lone assassin” was, a couple of weeks after the event in Memphis, identified by investigators as a man named James Earl Ray. Ray was well known, at least amongst appropriate authorities, as a forty year-old ne’er-do-well born in Illinois, one who had dropped out of school at age fifteen and had later spent some time in the Army in Germany during or after the Second World War . . . one who when, following his Army discharge in the early fifties, began a life of petty crime. He’d had several convictions on burglary, armed robbery, even mail fraud, and was finally sentenced to twenty years imprisonment in Missouri. He’d escaped from prison in 1967 and had not been seen or heard from until well after he was formally charged — in absentia — with King’s murder.
James Earl Ray, the ‘instantly’ famous prison escapee, had somehow managed to evade authorities, and had effectively disappeared from view. It wasn’t until, ironically, June 8, 1968 — two days after the death of Robert F. Kennedy — that James Earl Ray was finally located. He was arrested at Heathrow Airport in London. Details, compiled from various news sources of the time, read as follows:
Forty year-old James Earl Ray, wanted in the United States in connection with the April 4, 1968 assassination of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., was apprehended by Scotland Yard this morning at London’s Heathrow Airport. He had arrived in London on a flight from Lisbon to Brussels. He was carrying a Canadian passport in the name of Ramon George Sneyd. The name is that of a Toronto police constable and was apparently used without his knowledge.
Ray was originally indicted for the murder of Dr. King in Memphis, Tennessee on April 23 under the name of Galt and was later re-indicted under his true name. On May 7, formal murder charges were filed against Ray in Memphis.
When arrested, Ray was wearing a light raincoat, a sports jacket and gray trousers. His hair had been cropped short and he was wearing glasses, but otherwise had not attempted to disguise his features.
Scotland Yard officers said they had found a fully loaded pistol in his hip pocket. According to officers at the scene, he offered no resistance and said nothing.
So: an essentially penniless American ne’er-do-well and escaped con was apprehended at London’s Heathrow airport some two months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Ray was armed; he was in transit from (at least) Lisbon to Brussels, and was traveling under a false name, using a bogus Canadian passport.
One might imagine a question or two could arise from that documented scenario, but we’ll leave exploration of that matter for another time.
Meanwhile, a ponder of Bobby Kennedy’s ideas and theses which he so eloquently expressed in his speech of April 5, 1968, reveals just how MARGINAL are today’s efforts to combat each and all of those now dismissed (but always recurrent) issues. Not a single ‘idea’ that might somehow be employed to relieve the forever obvious mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives has yet made its way forward to become either practiced or enacted law.
We remain embedded in dilemma: NOTHING Bobby Kennedy so eloquently suggested — forty-five years ago this day — has yet come to pass. Consider, too, that today’s Senate and House remain prepared (and, sadly, able) to prevent yet again – after untold numbers of ever more wanton murders – any and all efforts by people of conscience to somehow halt the needless and intellectually insipid consequences of the gun culture which SO dominates such a LARGE segment of America’s obviously distressed population.
Ponder that, and then remember one more time Robert F. Kennedy’s eloquently spoken words, embedded in his memorial to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In response to the premise that there will continue to be those who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed he asked a pair of questions:
*** “Why? What has violence ever accomplished?” ***
The obvious answer to the second question is a one-worder: NOTHING. The bogus and inverted answer to the first is always that simplest one, familiar to most who may have run across any remnant of America’s gun-embraced (and embracing) culture . . . as ‘they’ are invariably quick to point out:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Violence; murder; wanton and unwarranted death; each defines today’s US of A(merica). But please, remember always: guns keep ‘us’ . . . FREE (so the story goes, at least). One can only wonder what would be the ultimate consequence IF, say, that Second Amendment could be repealed and ALL guns confiscated, then destroyed . . . would we then have to regulate sales of baseball bats? Knives? Hammers? — each and all of which can be used to kill something or someone? Or maybe we could all breathe a bit more . . . ummm . . . “free”??
Bottom line: Guns. GUNS have one SOLE purpose: to kill; even baseball bats, knives, and hammers have more ‘use’ than that. SO: why do WE (well, at least some of us) consider GUNS to be so absolutely sacred?
Waiting to hear from Bobby on this issue. Also his brother Jack, Dr. King, and a few billion others. Dead. From Gunshot. I’ll report quickly, if/when I hear. From. Them.