I am the son of Robert F. Kennedy, who was murdered in Los Angeles more than 40 years ago. As the child of a crime victim, I am guaranteed by the state Constitution that my family and I will be treated with respect and dignity.
Yet I was horrified to learn earlier this week that the Los Angeles Police Department had included the shirt, tie and jacket my father was wearing when he was assassinated in an exhibition at the California Homicide Investigators Assn. conference in Las Vegas. The display -- billed as never-before-seen artifacts from the vaults of the LAPD and the L.A. County district attorney's office -- also includes crime-scene evidence from the Black Dahlia murder, the death of Marilyn Monroe, the O.J. Simpson case and the Manson murders.
As a former assistant district attorney, I understand that the proper storage of property and legal evidence is a critical part of the judicial process. The D.A.'s office and the police are required to follow legislative and court-ordered guidelines, because the correct handling of crime victims' property minimizes the risk of evidence contamination and protects it for return to owners.
I requested the return of my father's items nearly a decade ago. My request was refused by the district attorney's office. The D.A. promised, though, to keep the personal items with care and out of public view. Since then, courageous crime victims in California have forced a change in the state Constitution, requiring law enforcement officials to return victims' property when it is no longer needed as evidence.
This week, despite that constitutional requirement, the chief of police and the district attorney took my father's blood-soaked clothing and displayed it, as part of a macabre publicity stunt. It is almost incomprehensible to imagine what circumstances would have led to a decision to transport these items across state lines to be gawked at by gamblers and tourists. It is demeaning to my family, but just as important, it is demeaning to the trust that citizens place in their law enforcement officers.
When I called to express my surprise and disappointment, the chief maintained to me that hanging my dad's bloody shirt from a mannequin in a casino was part of an effort to train detectives. Perhaps he believes that, but to me it seems like a cheap bid for attention. It is almost like a traffic cop inviting motorists to slow down and take a good look as they go past a tragedy.
The chief agreed to remove my father's belongings from the exhibit. I'm pleased he did so. But he should also remember that such items are personal property, entrusted to the state's care, not to be exploited. He relies on crime victims to prosecute virtually every criminal. He cannot long succeed if he continues to put victims' pain on display for publicity.
Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, an author, is a resident of Los Angeles.