NEW YORK — In a speech here Monday, Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy’s daughter, drew an implicit contrast between her father — a senator and presidential candidate in 1968 — and the man who is president today. She did not mention President Trump by name.
Kennedy, president of the organization Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, spoke after receiving an award for citizen activism.
She began her speech by quoting her father, who was assassinated almost exactly 50 years ago on the night he won the California primary.
“Peace and justice and compassion towards those who suffer — that’s what the United States should stand for, and that’s what I’ll do if I’m elected president,” Kennedy said in her remarks at the University Club, just two blocks south of Trump Tower. “Imagine a politician, a serious presidential contender, standing up and saying that.”
“That’s exactly what my father advocated,” she continued. “Because he was animated by a moral imagination that allowed him to see things from the perspective of others whether they were farmworkers in New York or California, or African-Americans contemplating riots after the death of their leader.”
She recalled Robert F. Kennedy’s famous speech in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968 — the night of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination — in which he invoked the death of his brother President John F. Kennedy.
“When Dr. King was killed, Daddy stood in front of a crowd of the largest African-American community in Indianapolis, and he said, ‘For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act against all black people, I can only say that in my own heart I feel the same kind of feeling,’” Kerry Kennedy said. “Try to imagine a political leader addressing a group of people armed with bicycle chains and table legs and Molotov cocktails — and they’re ready to riot — and expressing an understanding of their feelings of violence.”
Over 100 U.S. cities experienced rioting in the wake of King’s death, she said, but “Indianapolis was peaceful — and remained peaceful — because of that moral imagination and capacity for empathy.”
That ability also “saved our country from nuclear war,” Kerry Kennedy said while recalling how her father, the U.S. attorney general and a confidant and adviser to President Kennedy, helped resolve the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
“Daddy was able to understand that [Soviet statesman Nikita] Khrushchev didn’t personally want combat,” she said.
Kerry Kennedy was presented with the American Spirit Award for Citizen Activism after a tribute to Robert F. Kennedy by Alec Baldwin. David Hogg, the student activist who survived the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., received the same award.
Hogg was introduced by former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose Everytown for Gun Safety is one of the country’s leading anti-gun-violence groups.
“I for one am just tired of all this,” Bloomberg said. “And I’ve committed myself to do everything I can to stop it.”
Bloomberg criticized Congress for inaction on U.S. gun laws, saying last week’s school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, was preventable.
“The worst part is when something as terrible as this has happened, however, is that we let it happen again, and again, and again,” he said, “without taking the steps that could save so many lives.”
Hogg, who has been equally critical of the lack of response by lawmakers to school shootings, struck more of a conciliatory tone in his acceptance speech.
“At the end of the day, we’re not Democrats or Republicans — we’re Americans,” Hogg said. “We should love each other as people.”
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