Happy, productive people are not violent. Only the hated hate, and only the scared lash out. But still, we live in a society where violence is ever present and horrifying tragedies seem ever more common. 

When we remember the children and teachers who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School or mourn the victims of the recent attack at the Boston Marathon, we need to ask ourselves why it is that so many tormented souls are committing these atrocities. 
If we ask this we will see our own complicity in the system that totally divests its weak so that they see no other outlet but violence. Violence is a cry of frustration, a cry for help. 

This is the case with international terrorism on the world stage and is the case for terrorism here at home. Violence perpetrated by an individual against another can more often than not be traced to the violence perpetrated by the society onto the individual. It is the reason why nameless young boys and girls are gunned down daily one by one on the streets of every major American city. 

Robert F. Kennedy said in his famous 1968 speech, “The Mindless Menace of Violence”—not long before his own violent death—that this type of social violence is perpetrated by our society’s “indifference and inaction and slow decay.”  

“This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter. And this too afflicts us all,” Kennedy said. 

And, for the most part, this violence has only intensified since 1968. The instability of a globalized economy that can guarantee some the cheapest goods denies others the stability of a steady paycheck and meaningful work. It reduces the uneducated to menial labor and tears apart families in our worst neighborhoods. 

In our country, we have made sacred the idea of meritocracy—the best will get their reward. But what about everyone else? Where is their justice? 

Our economy chews up and spits out those who cannot make the grade or earn the credentials. Our reflex as a society is to blame these people for their failure. Of course this dismissive and spiteful attitude is going to encourage violence in response.  

While an extreme reaction, violence is the inevitable result of our insistence on rubbing failure into the faces of those who have drawn society’s short straws. 

Kennedy knew that there was no way to finally and completely eliminate what he called “the mindless menace of violence.” 

But he knew that we could reduce it by treating the wounds that our economy inflicts. Otherwise, Kennedy warned us, “We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.” 

Violence is the result of a fraying individualistic society where those who have achieved success and power cast aside those who cannot keep up. We must change. 

This means supporting government policies that promote opportunity. 

Where hope is absent, violence takes its place. That is the lesson of our inner cities where gangs present the best opportunity for many young boys to achieve control over their own lives and the respect of their peers. 

But it also means creating a working safety net that will catch those who, given opportunity and support will still fail. 

Where is the funding for that treatment? Employees at Walmart, one of the most profitable businesses in this country, are paid so little that they are encouraged to apply for food stamps at orientation. 

Where are the unions to demand living wages and job stability? The fastest growing sectors in this economy are technology and finance. Is it fair to ask an unemployed 50-year-old steel worker to go back to school to learn programming because that is where the jobs are? 

As a society, we must demand policies that will alleviate the wounds our economy inflicts upon those who we deem inferior. We must restore hope for those the economy has spit out that there is still a chance for them to lead a comfortable life. 

If we do not, violence will continue unabated, a cry of rage against an unjust system. 

That was Robert F. Kennedy’s message in 1968, and it is even more true today. 

Sam Vitello is a member of the Class of 2013.