Today is the 45th anniversary of the Kent State University massacre in Ohio. On that day four unarmed students were killed and nine others injured by members of the Ohio National Guard. Years of conflict over the nation's role in the Vietnam War had Americans on edge. Days before the event President Richard Nixon referred to some campus protesters as "bums." In seconds, 67 shots fired into a crowd of defenseless students marked a turning point in national opinion and the beginning of the end of an already very unpopular war.
|Location map from the Scranton Commission r|
In the days following the killing strikes involving more than 4 million students took place on almost 900 campuses across the nation. And barely a week after Kent State, police killed a student and a passerby at a demonstration at Jackson State College in Mississippi. An unquestionable sense of rebellion began to grip the nation. The Nixon administration was well aware of the situation and took steps to mitigate the danger and political erosion. One of those steps was the creation of the President's Commission on Campus Unrest- the Scranton Commission - in June 1970. The commission was tasked with reviewing the incident. After three months of work the commission concluded:
Even if the guardsmen faced danger, it was not a danger that called for lethal force. The 61 shots by 28 guardsmen certainly cannot be justified. Apparently, no order to fire was given, and there was inadequate fire control discipline on Blanket Hill. The Kent State tragedy must mark the last time that, as a matter of course, loaded rifles are issued to guardsmen confronting student demonstrators.
I have a feeling it is going to be a very long, hot summer of protest this year. Although the nature of the protests has changed, the right to protest remains intact. Let us hope that the lessons learned in 1970 will be uppermost in mind when the National Guard walks the streets to both insure our constitutional rights and also protect people and property from harm. Such an outcome would be a fitting memorial to the Kent State and Jackson State victims.