Crimes Against Justice
The assassination of John F. Kennedy was, in the highest sense, a crime against the nation. But the murder of his accused assassin yesterday was a senseless violation of the very principles of law and justice to which the late President dedicated his life.
When the President's assassin took gun in hand, he rejected a political system designed to allow opposition without treason, dissent without disloyalty. Lee Oswald's murderer put himself no less outside the structure of law. Both men used the tactics of the battle field, not of a civilized society.
Just as no possible motivation could justify the assassination of the President, no calculated expediency could warrant the murder of Lee Oswald, even had he been proved guilty. As the Supreme Court said 97 years ago, "The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances."
Those whose desire for vengeance overcomes their respect for the legal system share the guilt of Oswald's murderer. Their attitudes encouraged the killing by spreading contempt for orderly judicial procedure. As our society must allow a Lee Oswald his right to speak, so it should have guaranteed him his day in court.
Despotism or anarchy are the only other alternatives. The safety of our leaders and the safety of accused criminals rests on the same basis. Grievances, no matter how strongly felt, must be mediated within a political system. Chief Justice Warren put it best as he spoke in eulogy of President Kennedy: "If we really love this country, if we truly love justice and mercy, if we fervently want to make this nation better for those who are to follow us, we can at least abjure the hatred that consumes people, the false accusations that divide us, and the bitterness that begets violence."