On the Mindless Menace of Violence

Last night I hit submit on the third of my four fellowship applications. The video interview portion posed four questions that I was given one minute to consider before replying. The final question in the series was ‘What should be done about gun violence in America?’

This morning I watched the 2006 drama Bobby – a film about the various guests and staff at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles during the hours leading to the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, 1968. If I had watched this film yesterday morning instead of today, perhaps I would have answered that interview question a bit more poetically.

Bobby Kennedy delivered this impromptu speech following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The film Bobby ends in tragedy, ‘The Mindless Menace of Violence’ playing in the background. As usual, the past has a funny way of being woefully applicable to the present.

Listen to the audio in full. Excerpts below.

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 any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily – whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence – whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.

Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but 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.

I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. 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 he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job 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 mastered.


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