On Saturday it was 52 years since Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, when he was widely expected to be the Democrats’ presidential candidate.
Two months earlier on April 4, Martin Luther King had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
Immediately after King’s death Kennedy had made an impromptu speech in Indianapolis which was credited with calming the situation in that city as riots broke out across the USA.
In 1968 it seemed that America was on the brink. Riots in 60 cities across the states made it the most violent year in modern history for that society. Until now.
In the aftermath of the needless death of George Floyd in Minneapolis with American cities burning, tear gas on the streets and the threat of military deployment, it has been difficult to see what progress has been made in half a century.
I read that Bobby Kennedy speech again this week and was overcome by the strength of its message for today: “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 or lawlessness; but 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 they be black.”
But if we think the problems in the 21st Century are confined to the United States and we have nothing left to learn from Kennedy’s words or King’s leadership, then we are wrong.
It was clear from the correspondence in my inbox this week that very many of my constituents do not believe that the problem is confined to the streets of American cities.
Neither do they seem content to simply watch the threatened disintegration of order on the other side of the Atlantic and are calling instead for our Government to speak up. I agree.
As one of the United States’ closest allies, the United Kingdom has a moral duty to speak out when the freedom and rights of the people of the US are under attack.
The UK Government’s refusal to condemn the United States has been shameful.
Since the murder of George Floyd, President Trump has used increasingly violent rhetoric in response to protests over racial injustice and police brutality.
That violent rhetoric is as unacceptable as the actions it can provoke. To remain silent is to remain complicit.
If the special relationship means anything, it must be used to condemn the language of the US President and the threat of military force against protestors.
The situation in the US is also a stark reminder of the systemic racism which still exists here in the UK. The evidence is everywhere.
So many of us who hoped, indeed believed, that the McPherson report after the murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence would prove a turning point, now realise that even with the massive achievements of his mother, now Baroness Lawrence, there is still much to be done.
More than a million people have signed a petition in support of railway worker Belly Mujinga who died of coronavirus after being spat at and coughed over on the concourse of Victoria railway station in London.
There were protestors outside parliament this week prompted into action by the fear that our Government also needs reminded that Black Lives Matter.
Inside the building MPs from all parties were pressing that same Government on the need to do more to establish exactly why such a disproportionately high number of those who have died of Covid-19 are from our BAME communities. And once they have established that, to act to tackle the social and economic inequalities which have created it.
We must create a structure throughout the United Kingdom that enables inequalities faced by BAME communities to be eliminated, with the Equality and Human Rights Commission charged with determining if it has the funding to be successful.
I know we are in the middle of the biggest emergency this country has faced in peace time.
And we face the possibility that the crisis it eclipsed – Brexit – might still end in a disastrous exit without the deal our economy so desperately needs to recover.
But this too is a crisis which needs our attention.
In 1968, I was an inquisitive child taking in their initial impressions of a world which seemed beset with problems.
I learned from secretly listening to the conversations of my parents and their friends that the world had lost two political giants that spring.
Two men intent on change. On equality. Whose views and speeches still inform how many of us desire to make a difference to our world.
Among the many memorable and influential things they said perhaps this quote of Martin Luther King best encapsulates this moment: “Rioting is the language of the unheard.”
It is time to listen.
Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West
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