Allow me to reflect on the crime and attempted assassination that took place yesterday in Arizona.
6 people were killed during a constituent meeting - U.S. District Judge John Roll, 63; Christina Green, 9; Giffords’ aide Gabe Zimmerman, 30; Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; and Phyllis Scheck, 79.
13 were wounded and United States Congresswoman Giffords is included in that number.
Officials have said that Congresswoman Giffords was the target of this attack.
As many have said in response to this horrific crime, an attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve.
I will add that an attack on one individual who is meeting in the public square in an expression of their 1st Amendment right is an attack on us all.
As someone who regularly attends constituent meetings, I was particularly moved by the death of Christina Green. Christina had recently been elected to student government and was invited to attend the constituent meeting by a neighbor who thought she would get a kick out of seeing politics in action.
I’ve often urged my voter education students to do the same…to meet with those elected to represent them in government.
And it breaks my heart that this 9-year-old girl did indeed see a side of American politics in action at that constituent meeting.
Oh yes, that just breaks my heart.
There is a lot we don’t know about the accused murderer and his motivations.
What we do know is that many of us, upon hearing news of this crime, thought of those crosshairs placed over targeted districts on websites and of the attacks on Congressional district offices during the health care reform debate.
That our minds went there…and that some sought to cleanse their web presence of such images and calls to arms…is telling whether those things turn out to be related to this crime or not.
And so now we should turn inward…examine how we express our frustration and anger and disagreements.
This crime should not…must not…silence those who gather in the public square. Nor should it empty the square of the people.
It should inspire all of us to act on the why behind where our minds went when we first heard of this incident…to look inward and take care for, as Congresswoman Giffords said in response to crosshairs being placed over her district during the 2010 election, there are consequences.
Let us begin that work even as we remember those who are struggling for life…even as we mourn those who have been taken from this world through this act of violence.
I will do the same, reflecting first on Senator Robert Kennedy’s speech delivered April 4th of 1968 upon learning of the death by assassination of Martin Luther King earlier that day.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I'm only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening, because I have some -- some very sad news for all of you -- Could you lower those signs, please? -- 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 fill with -- 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, or go beyond these rather difficult times.
My favorite poem, my -- my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And 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 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.
So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King -- yeah, it's true -- but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love -- a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.
We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We've had difficult times in the past, but we -- and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it's not the end of disorder.
But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.
And let's dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.
May we all seek to gain that wisdom.