The Pantry Preserved?
When the Los Angeles Unified School District Board held public hearings last year, I, Jim DiEugenio, Larry Teeter, and a bunch of community activists went before the Board to attempt to convince them of the historical significance of the hotel and to urge its preservation. One of my favorite speakers wrote a little scene between father and son. The son said there's no point in studying history. When the father asked why, the son gave a litany of all the cool people who had visited the hotel, but said the school board was tearing it down, and therefore the school board was telling students history didn't matter. It was so much better than that awful summary I just gave! Clever, funny, and very much to the point.
I was neither clever nor funny, but I hope I got my point across when I spoke. Here's what I said. I just barely got it all in during the three minutes allotted.
I understand the Kennedy family's wish to have a school on the site and not some morbid reminder of their beloved Bobby's death. But Bobby's death marked the end of much more than one man. It maked the end of liberalism and the goal of peaceful co-existence with other nations. After John and Bobby were gone, the right-wing in this country took every opportunity to turn America into an Empire. We're watching that endgame now.
I am speaking today not just for myself, but on behalf of 39 other people who have given me their names and comments for additional support. I will present their responses at the end of my comments.
As a product of the public school system in this state, I am deeply committed to seeing the LAUSD receive the support and resources it needs to bring quality education to people in the communities where they live.
As a community member, I have a deep concern that a genuine piece of history from this city is about to be demolished.
Others can tell of Barbra Streisand's appearances here and other events that make this a magical place. I am here to speak on behalf of a tragedy. As a published author on the Robert Kennedy assassination, I am compelled to inform you of new evidence that mandates the preservation of a significant portion of the hotel.
An audio tape has surfaced that was made by a newsman in the hotel the night Robert Kennedy was killed. On the tape, audible shots can be heard. There has long been controversy in this case as to whether there was a single gunman or multiple shooters in the pantry. This tape, combined with the other existing audio evidence, has the potential to settle that debate once and for all.
Even without new evidence, this site is worth preserving. The city of Dallas has preserved the site of the assassination of Bobby's brother, President John Kennedy. The city of Memphis has preserved the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King was shot. That Robert Kennedy was assassinated here alone makes it of significant interest to the public.
But with this new evidence, we are reminded that this is not simply a historic spot. This is a crime scene.
And it is a crime scene that one agency of the city has already partially destroyed.
After FBI agents photographed additional bullet holes in a door frame in the pantry, holes that could prove there were more bullets than could have been fired from a single gun, the LAPD took out the door frame and burned it. When multiple bullet holes were found in the ceiling tiles, the LAPD removed the tiles and ultimately the entire ceiling up to the plastered portion still visible. The LAPD destroyed thousands of photographs and many other pieces of evidence in this case. Their behavior towards this crime was a serious black mark for our city.
To this day, appeals are still proceeding in this case because of the mishandling of the evidence. Does the LAUSD wish to join the LAPD in further destroying the crime scene even as the case is not yet closed on that assassination? Do we want Los Angeles to further stain its reputation in that regard? How can a school system which teaches the importance of history be engaged in destroying such an important piece of it?
Analyzing the latest audio in an acoustically unchanged Ambassador Hotel is critical to finding the truth about this important event, one that took the life of a potential president, a potential world leader.
The LAUSD desperately needs more space. But is the current plan the best we can do? The lot is huge. There is plenty of room to build high-capacity buildings without destroying the core portion of the hotel. Please reconsider the drastic proposal currently under consideration and preserve this important landmark which encapsulates such a special, remarkable part of our history. And preserve especially the crime scene and surrounding areas so that the truth can ultimately prevail. Justice has not been fully served, and there's no statute of limitations on murder.
Fifteen years is a long time. But it's never too late to do the right thing.
After I spoke to the Board, I gave them the copies of the thirty-nine statements from people in five different countries. One person doesn't make much difference. But maybe because forty of us stood up and spoke in unison, TOGETHER, we had an effect.
I'd rather have Kennedy back than the pantry. But if the pantry has been preserved, then I hope it is erected somewhere so new generations will come to learn of this remarkable, courageous, and compassionate soul who, as Ted Kennedy said so movingly in his eulogy, "saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."
God bless you, Robert Kennedy. Oh, how we continue to love, miss, and need you.