Forty-five years ago today, Robert F. Kennedy was in Gary, Indiana, as part of his participation in the 1968 Democratic Party presidential primaries. As he was about to mount a flatbed truck to speak to an almost exclusively African-American audience, he received word that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr had been assassinated in Memphis, TN. The police in Gary had recommended that he cancel this planned campaign stop out of fear for his safety. Instead, he decided to speak as scheduled.
"I have some very sad news for all of you, and I think sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.
Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it's perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.
For those of you who are black -- considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible -- you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.
We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization - black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love.
For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.
But we have to make an effort in the United States; we have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond these rather difficult times.
My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote: "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."
What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but it is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black."
During the last 50 years we have witnessed the assassinations of pubic figures like President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Dr. King, Robert Kennedy and several instances of mass killings at schools, a Sikh temple, movie theaters, a political gathering in Tucson, Arizona -- and more recently in Newton, Conn.
Today, on the anniversary of the killing of Dr. King, America seems to have developed an incurable addiction for the ownership and use of guns. The Second Amendment's Constitutional protection to bear arms in 1789 is currently be applied and used as a shield against any kind of reasonable regulation governing the use of guns, the type of gun and the appropriate bullets for use in a civil society -- in a nation not at war with an invading foreign army.
Our Congress should collectively hold its head in shame. How many more gun killings have to occur before we as a nation say, enough is enough? We are better than this.
When are we going to be ready, willing and able to heed the advice of Robert F. Kennedy 45 years ago? When are we are going to have courage and moral commitment to confront our addiction to guns and seek a durable cure befitting the memory of the children and adults slaughtered in Newton, CT?
A friend of mine recently wrote to me and said "we should focus the national conversation away from 2nd Amendment issues that are polarizing." He said we should "focus on solutions and reducing gun violence which can unify Americans on a common agenda and elevate the cultural standards of the national gun culture."
Maybe on this 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King we can redouble our efforts to do just that. Otherwise, I am reminded of what Thomas Jefferson said: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever.
Is anybody listening?
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