Monday, May 4, 2015

Kent State

It might have slipped my mind that May 4 is the 45th anniversary of the killings at Kent State, but for an excellent post at Dangerous Minds that includes an interview with wounded survivor Alan Canfora:

On the 45th anniversary of the Kent State massacre, a talk with one of the students who got shot

A book I've read and can recommend about Kent State is William A. Gordon's The Fourth of May: Killings and Coverups at Kent State (which exists in another published version as Four Dead in Ohio). It should be said, though, that Alan Canfora would NOT approve of this recommendation, as there is bad blood between him and Gordon over differing interpretations of the events, mixed with sheer mutual dislike. Although Gordon was not present on May 4, he transferred to the university shortly thereafter, and became a dogged researcher into what happened that day. It is certainly sometimes the case that stakeholders of various kinds will bicker intensely over "ownership" of a tragedy. Both Gordon and Canfora seem to me to be judicious enough - but not about each other.

People still fight about Kent State because it lives in the public consciousness. Two parallels to it are much less well-known. The encounter between police and students at historically black Jackson State College in Mississippi, which resulted in two dead (a university student and a high school student) and 12 wounded (as compared to four and nine in Ohio), took place just 11 days after Kent State, and was swallowed in news terms by it. But the events were uncannily similar in some ways.

Both began as student protests of the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. The shooting officers in both cases stated that they were being threatened by snipers, although no proof of sniper fire was ever uncovered, and the suggestion of it seemed to be transparently aimed at assisting in a cover-up. At Kent State, 67 shots were fired over 13 seconds; the most sustained shooting at Jackson State involved more than 140 shots fired over 30 seconds straight at Alexander Hall, a women's dormitory.

'Ten Days Later' - Kent State... What about Jackson State's Tragedy?

If the Jackson State killings are somewhat obscure but at least occasionally mentioned in connection with Kent State, then the "Orangeburg massacre" two years prior is practically unknown.

This took place at another historically black college, South Carolina State University, in February 1968. Students had been protesting the failure of a local bowling alley owner to allow African-Americans in his facility. On the night of February 8, highway patrolmen shot repeatedly into a crowd of protesters on the SCSU campus, killing three (two university students and a high school student) and injuring 30 or more. In what would come to be a familiar pattern, the policemen claimed that they were under weapons fire, although no evidence to this effect was ever offered. Over and over, phantom shots by non-officers are used as a pretext for real shots by officers.

In all three of these campus protest incidents, a few rocks and other objects were certainly thrown at officers, and although tensions were running high, I would not minimize that. However, there is no evidence whatsoever of greater provocation by the students.

Whenever armed officers of the government start firing at unarmed citizens - the Champs de Mars Massacre in France (July 1791), Bloody Sunday in Russia (January 1905), the Amritsar Massacre in India (April 1919), the Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico (October 1968) - that is a sign that the government has lost whatever legitimacy it may have had, and that matters will probably get worse before they get better.

One could argue that the negative example of Kent State semi-permanently chastened student (and not just student) exercise of free speech and the right to assembly in the United States right up until today. Who wants to get killed for speaking up?  

The Fourth of May: Killings and Coverups at Kent State

Lynch Street: The May 1970 Slayings at Jackson State College

The Orangeburg Massacre

The Legacy of the Orangeburg Massacre

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