Kent State at 45: Protest is not new, but it is the same
WASHINGTON, May 3, 2015 – Monday, May 4, 1970, was a beautiful spring day. It is also the day four students died at Kent State University – shot by the Ohio Army National Guard. Eight other students were injured, one permanently paralyzed.
In the 1960s there were more students in college than at any other time; by 1965 41 percent of all Americans were under the age of 20. And they all feared the draft.
The Guard was called to Kent State to suppress college student rioting in protest of the Vietnam War and the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. By the end of 1967, there were nearly half-a-million military serving in Vietnam, with 40,000 draftees being called to service every month.
Over 15,000 Americans were killed, and a further 109,527 were wounded. The war was costing the U.S. $25 billion per year.
Protests against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War started on college campuses, getting stronger after the United States began bombing North Vietnam in earnest. Peace activists Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) gathered strength in early 1968 after the Tet Offensive by North Vietnamese troops proved that the war’s end was nowhere in sight.
There had been days of rioting at Kent State University, starting on May 1 when 500 students gathered on the school’s “Commons.” The riots continued into the evening, bonfires were lit and the protesters began violently engaging with the police.
The Ohio Army National Guards first met with Kent Mayor LeRoy Satrom, who declared a state of emergency. The Guard arrived on the campus late in the evening on May 2 .
On Sunday, May 3, some students went into downtown Kent to help with cleanup after the rioting. The same day, Satrom issued a curfew. That evening, however, students held a rally that violated the curfew, and Guardsmen used tear gas to disperse the students. That prompted the student group to move into town and hold a sit-in.
At 11 p.m. Guardsmen began forcing students, at the end of their bayoneted M1 Garand rifles, to go home.
Classes resumed on Monday. Students called for a rally, and by noon, some 2,000 people, mostly students, had assembled to listen to speakers.
The National Guard troops ordered the crowd to disperse, fired tear gas and moved toward the students carrying bayoneted rifles. Protesters refused to leave and began throwing rocks and yelling at the troops.
Companies A and C, 1/145th Infantry and Troop G of the 2/107th Armored Cavalry, Ohio National Guard (ARNG) advanced on the students in order to disperse them.
The deaths and injuries happened when a Guardsman discharged some 60 rounds into a group of demonstrators in a parking lot. Allison Krause, 19, and Jeffrey Miller, 20, who had been participating in the protest, were killed. Also killed were Sandra Scheuer, 20, and William Knox Schroeder, 19, who were killed walking to classes.
Nine others were wounded. Dean R. Kahler was paralyzed from the chest down as as result of the Guard’s shooting.
The legality of the dispersal was later debated at a subsequent wrongful death and injury trial. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that authorities did indeed have the right to disperse the crowd.
“There has not been a credible, independent, impartial investigation into Kent State. No group or individual has been held accountable. In 2010, after undeniable forensic evidence emerged pointing to direct U.S. government involvement in the killings, Emily Kunstler and I founded the Kent State Truth Tribunal (KSTT).
Our hope was to finally receive a full account of the tragic events and to see that the victims and their families receive redress. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice refused to reopen the case, claiming there were “insurmountable legal and evidentiary barriers.”
President Richard Nixon made the following comments on the Kent State tragedy, vowing to find more effective methods of combating violence: