I want to believe Hillary Clinton when she says that her recent comment about Robert F. Kennedy being assassinated in June was a reference to the long primary season rather than the ever-present danger that Barack Obama faces. The problem with Clinton is that she is often her own worst enemy.

She issued a statement saying, "The Kennedys have been much on my mind the last days because of Senator Kennedy and I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation, and particularly for the Kennedy family, was in any way offensive. I certainly had no intention of that, whatsoever."

But Karen Tumulty, a political correspondent for Time magazine, noted that it wasn't the first time Clinton had brought up the Kennedy assassination. An interview published in the March 6 edition of Time contained this exchange:

Time: Can you envision a point at which - if the race stays this close - Democratic Party elders would step in and say, "This is now hurting the party and whoever will be the nominee in the fall"?

Clinton: No, I really can't. I think people have short memories. Primary contests used to last a lot longer. We all remember the great tragedy of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June in L.A. My husband didn't wrap up the nomination in 1992 until June. Having a primary contest go through June is nothing particularly unusual."

So, far from the Kennedys being on Clinton's mind because of the recent disclosure that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has a malignant brain tumor, Clinton had made a similar reference more than two months earlier.

As other journalists and bloggers have pointed out, Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign was effectively wrapped up in March, not June. And Mark Shields pointed out on PBS's News Hour that Robert Kennedy's first primary was May 7, 1968. He was assassinated four weeks later. Therefore, the issue was not one of a long campaign that lasted until June.

For those of us who lived through the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, this talk of assassination is not taken lightly.

Although only 16 years old, I remember the sadness that President Kennedy's death brought to our public housing project. While we endured segregation in the South, the Kennedys represented a beacon of hope.

When King was slain, I was a student at Knoxville College in Tennessee. I remember being befuddled by the news of his assassination, thinking: If someone would do this to an advocate of nonviolence, what would be done to those who preached self-defense?

Years later, as a Washington correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, I was assigned to Jesse Jackson's 1984 presidential campaign.

I remember being in Las Vegas with Jackson and Sylvester Monroe, then a correspondent for Newsweek magazine, when we heard over a police radio that threats had been made on Jackson's life. According to the dispatcher's loud, crackling voice, a caller had promised that Jackson would not get out of Las Vegas alive.

After covering Jackson for more than 25 years, I know that the subject of his possible assassination is one of the few topics he adamantly refuses to discuss. And I understand why. Dwelling on the issue doesn't do any good, let alone stop any sick person bent on killing someone.

Alma Powell, wife of former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, reportedly was against his seeking the presidency for fear of his being assassinated. The fear is real. And families, not just public figures, have reluctantly accepted that risk as the price of public service.

There was some controversey surrounding a weekly newspaper, the Roswell (Ga.) Beacon, after it ran a photo of Barack Obama viewed through the scope of a rifle, with the headline: "Local Law Enforcement Braces for Obama Backlash."

The sight was so sickening that I didn't allow myself to check out what I suspect is a right-wing hate group. Just seeing Obama portrayed as a target was sickening enough.

I have had friends who have tried to broach the subject of Obama's possibly getting assassinated and I've cut them off in midsentence. It is simply not a subject I will discuss.

While the possibility is real in the sick society that we live in, I refuse to entertain the thought of Obama not pushing forward because of fear.

The next time Hillary Clinton decides to engage in assassination talk, regardless of its purpose, I hope she realizes that this is a sensitive topic.

Too many of our public servants have lost their lives through violence. We can't let hope become the next casualty.

George E. Curry, former Washington correspondent and New York bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune, was editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine.

He can be reached at gcurry@phillynews.com.