With the bombardment of daily news, it’s amazing how headline stories of years ago surface so often. It happened again just this week when it was announced that California Gov. Gavin Newsom denied parole to Sirhan Sirhan.
For those of you too young to remember, Sirhan, a Palestinian, was accused, convicted and jailed for the assassination of New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
He originally was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison 1972, when the California Supreme Court outlawed capital punishment.
The killing came at a time in this country when we were inundated with violence and killings of important political people. It happened just nine weeks after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered and four and a half years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy – Sen. Kennedy’s brother.
It’s astonishing how memory works – I clearly recall where I was when I learned of the presidential killing and that of MLK and also that of Robert Kennedy. In that instance, we were living in Santa Monica, California, and news junkies that we were and are, had the TV on to see the political activities of that evening. It was an important night for Kennedy as he was in the process of claiming victory in the California Democratic presidential primary.
I knew the outcome of the vote and decided to go to bed. My husband stayed glued to the TV, and a short time after the vote, as Kennedy walked through a pantry at the Ambassador Hotel where the event took place, shots rang out. Robert Kennedy was shot dead, and five others were wounded.
Sirhan Sirhan was arrested. News cameras were there and recorded the killing. At the scene of the shooting, Sirhan reportedly said he resented Kennedy because of his support for Israel and shouted at the scene that he had killed Kennedy “for my country.”
My husband woke me, and I watched TV with him almost all night, as thousands of others did as well, as the cameras captured the chaos and the arrest and the confusion. Not only was the killing and the injuries of the other victims a tragedy, the incident also really upended the upcoming presidential election.
Over the years, Sirhan, who’s now 77, has applied for parole multiple times, but each time, it was denied. This latest appeal was the 16th, and this one was granted by the Parole Board. It’s been reported that the request was granted as a result of the decision by L.A. County District Attorney George Gascon not to oppose the parole application.
Gascon won a tough election, promising reforms and loosening of law enforcement. His race was more than aided by big donations from a variety of wealthy people, not the least was George Soros who contributed 2.25 million dollars!
Soros wanted change, and he got it.
But Angelinos are not happy nor are many in law enforcement. Gascon is the object of a recall effort, supported by thousands along with L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villaneuva. It’s expected the vote will take place before the end of this year now that enough signatures have been collected.
As for Sirhan Sirhan, the announcement of the recommendation from a two-person panel of parole commissioners that he be released was a shock to many, and Gov. Newsom wasted no time in responding, using his power to overrule the parole approval.
The governor called the assassination “among the most notorious crimes in American history,” which caused the Kennedy family “immeasurable suffering” and “great harm to the American people.” He added that it “upended the 1968 presidential election, leaving millions in the United States and beyond mourning the promise of his candidacy.”
Newsom said the killer “remains a threat to the public and hasn’t taken responsibility for a crime that added dark page to the annals of U.S. history.” He said, “Sirhan still lacks insight, refuses to accept responsibility and has failed to disclaim the violence committed in his name – and that adds to his current risk of inciting further political violence.”
At the time of the killing, Kennedy’s wife, Ethel, was pregnant and was left with their 10 other children. The killing was a supreme tragedy for a family that had already suffered enormously.
The news of the parole decision did cause division in the family.
Two sons, Douglas and Robert Jr., support the parole, while their mother and the rest of the siblings do not.
They praised Newsom’s decision in a statement, declaring, “The political passions that motivated this inmate’s act still simmer today, and his refusal to admit the truth makes it impossible to conclude that he has overcome the evil that boiled over 53 years ago.” They called Robert Kennedy a “visionary and champion of justice” whose life “was cut short by an enraged man with a small gun.”
Unfortunately, that’s all it takes to change the course of history – it’s a lesson Americans know all too well.
While I don’t agree with much of Gavin Newsom’s politics, I agree totally with his decision to deny parole to Sirhan Sirhan. I just wish he had the legal power to reinstate the death penalty and put Sirhan at the head of the line.
That’s the kind of justice we need.
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