RFK, MLK, Oakland, Race & Us

RKF, MLK Landmark for Peace Memorial

A few days ago I linked to a piece by J. Peter Nixon and his thoughts and actions in anticipation of a trial verdict toward which a few hundred agitators had been encouraging civil unrest.

Having remained in Oakland that night, choosing to pray at a Cathedral rather than flee, Nixon concluded his thoughts thusly:

I wonder, in retrospect, what would have happened if enough of us had stayed, if we had continued that ministry of non-violent presence, if we had been willing to keep vigil in the heart of the city throughout the night. There were hundreds of police, but that didn’t keep the peace. I wonder if something else could have.

Comments on Nixon’s piece ran from the thoughtful to the defensive to the outraged. We could dialogue for a week on how people received his piece, and why they received it as they did–let’s face it, the nation is just plain edgy right now, and too many are running on autopilot–but I think Nixon’s sentiments are important for us to consider, especially today, when we are pondering the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan, and what it means to be a neighbor – to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. At their core his ideas were not about political and ideological allegiance, but about the depths of our callings–as human beings and as Christians–and out out-of-touch we have become to them.

We must reacquaint ourselves with our own better angels if we want recognize them and help them to fly within our midst.

Political and civil agitators have always existed to exploit a moment, but the needless violence in Oakland (and the unhelpfully disunifying, response of the Department of Justice, which seeks to “review” the Oakland conviction, while setting aside this one) demonstrates that we are lacking any credible public voice capable of countering inflammatory rhetoric with a thoughtful appeal to our better selves.

Reading Nixon, I could not help but remember Martin Luther King’s better way, or how–at the news of his assassination–Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s extemporaneous and authentic response to it helped to bring a measure of peace to an awful moment. It is an instance where a choice of words could have inflamed or consoled. Kennedy chose consolation, and an appeal to the shared yearnings of the human heart.

Listen here as he breaks the news of King’s death to what is reported to have been a “largely black crowd,” at an Indiana campaign stop. He draws on all of his resources, and in the rising tide of his rhetoric, lifts all boats:

The terrible video is incomplete. Read the rest of Kennedy’s appeal to the crowd here.

Our common desires to live together peaceably and productively need to be expressed and encouraged, or they will be trod underfoot by heedless self-interest. In our cynical age, where a serious crisis is perceived as a mere political opportunity, do we have anyone left in public service who is capable of communicating them with sincerity, and helping to build, rather than tear down?

(Crossposted at Hot Air)

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • From Minnesota

    Thank you for reminding us that there was a time when great leaders did their best to bring us together.

  • Bill

    The 1960s had some very bad and some very good moments for our country.

  • DrD

    We need to, as a people, begin to condemn any would be leader who seeks to exploit situations such as this. Those who seek to stir up more trouble are the ones we should most quickly pull down.

    We need to make it completely unacceptable to increase tensions, to exacerbate already frayed nerves with the intention of bringing about violence needs to be a fast ticket to personal destruction for such would be leaders.

  • http://ampontan.wordpress.com/ Ampontan

    I sympathize with the sentiments, but just a month or two later in the California primary, RFK was playing the race card. He campaigned in Orange County by claiming that a vote for Eugene McCarthy was a vote for forced busing, which he was not going to let happen

    We’re not talking about a principled man.

  • dymphna

    Nixon’s self congratulatory tone was irritating. I know people who were trapped in the city during the ’68 riots. I don’t blame anybody who went home early.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    I have to agree, dymphna; it was very irritating. The risks of sticking around for a riot can range from being beaten up, to being permanently injured to being killed; this isn’t something you can lightly demand that others do. You can accept martyrdom, and danger, for yourself; you can’t demand others do it. You don’t know their lives, their situations, their backgrounds.

    And, while I’m all in favor of being a good Samaritan, I’m worried about the whole question of jury intimidation here; maybe a few more good Samaritans that night would have created peace for a while—but rioting when a particular court case doesn’t produce exactly the verdict some think it should, is an attack against our system of law! Who is going to want to sit on a jury under such circumstances? And, if they do, how can they render an impartial decision, knowing that if they give the “wrong” verdict there could be massive rioting?

  • Trump

    Nixon was stupid. The proper response is to not only go home early, but to move far away from this idiocy.

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