Silver Lining In Kent State’s Tragic Legacy: Safer Conditions For Occupy Protesters
Forty-two years ago, on May 4, 1970, amid the bitter battle over the Vietnam War, four innocent college students: Alilson Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheur and William Schroeder were gunned down and killed and twelve others were wounded by the National Guard at Kent State University. The incident shook the idealistic counter-culture to its core and raised more than a few questions about the government’s reaction to peaceful protests.
Just how peaceful the protest was, of course, was controversial at the time. In the days following the shootings, some people–including President Nixon–sided with the Guardsmen’s actions. “When dissent turns to violence, it invites tragedy,” he said, referring to students running around with bricks and (possibly) torching the R.O.T.C. building.
Yet scrutiny by the media, the F.B.I. and Nixon’s Scranton Commission on Campus Unrest –along with multiple civil lawsuits–made it apparent that the students’ actions did not warrant 61 shots ringing into a crowded and chaotic campus quad. “Kent State was a national tragedy, ” the Scranton Commission concluded. “We must learn from the particular horror of Kent State and ensure it is never repeated.”
The military and police have, in fact, learned important lessons on crowd control and riot prevention from the massacre. No doubt countless lives have been saved as a result of more deliberate planning and careful handling of potentially volatile situations.
Still the legacy of that dark day, captured in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s classic anthem “Ohio,” is a loss of innocence and a deeply embedded cynicism that pervades our national psyche and percolates particularly during tumultuous times. Something for protesters of all political persuasions to keep in mind.
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