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Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Four Dead in Ohio – Forty Years On

What started out as a student protest turned into the infamous Kent State Massacre on 4th May 1970. The protest actually proceeded then US President Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon confirming the incursion into Cambodia by American armed forces. This was the straw that broke the camel's back with the raging war in Vietnam having already killed hundreds of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Vietnamese men, women and children not to mention countless numbers of serious injuries resulting from Napalm Bombings and the spread of Agent Orange throughout various settlements. At the height of the war, which by now had also spread to Laos, mass demonstrations took place all over America especially on numerous university campuses

Enemies Foreign and Domestic

The protests at the Kent State University in Ohio began the day after Nixon’s announcement with over 500 students attending a rally on their campus. The protests were relatively peaceful during the day but erupted into a mini – riot at around midnight resulting in some buildings and vehicles set ablaze. On the request of Kent’s Mayor Leroy Satrom, Ohio States Governor James Rhodes dispatched the State National Guard to maintain order.

The next day, during a press conference, Governor Rhodes declared that the protestors were group of un-American revolutionaries determined to disrupt the education system of Ohio. He declared them as worse than Nazis (quite ironic) or Communists, describing them as the strongest most well trained revolutionary group ever assembled in the US. After his over the top ranting in which he was heard pounding his fists on the podium, Governor Rhodes barked his intention to obtain a court order declaring a state of emergency in Ohio, banning further demonstrations and gatherings of student groups. Despite this however, another campus rally was held on the evening of May 3rd, in protest of the Governor's actions. The National Guard announced that a curfew was in effect and forced the students back to their dormitories. Some of the students reported injuries resulting from having been bayoneted by some of the guards.

That Fateful Day

On Monday, May 4, a protest was scheduled for 12 noon, which University officials attempted to prevent by handing out leaflets announcing it had been cancelled. However, an estimated 2,000 people gathered on the university's Commons near Taylor Hall. The campus' iron Victory Bell (used to signal victories in football games) was rung to mark the beginning of the rally, and the first protester addressed the crowd. The National Guard moved toward the crowd first reading an order to disperse or face arrest. The protesters responded by throwing rocks, at the oncoming onslaught. Some guardsmen and campus patrolmen were struck but not seriously injured.

Tear gas was thrown at the students however due to the direction of the wind, the gas had little effect. Students began throwing rocks as well as the tear gas canisters originally intended for them. With Bayonets fixed, a group of guardsmen advanced upon the protesters who retreated up and over Blanket Hill. The groups of protesters then scattered with the guardsmen in pursuit. Shots were fired by one of the guardsmen with a .45 pistol into a crowd of students. A group of guardsmen followed suit and fired their rifles into the crowd. The shots lasted 13 seconds and a total number of 67 bullets were discharged.

The shootings resulted in the killing of four students Allison Krause and Jeffrey Miller, protesters fleeing the guardsmen, and Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder who were en route to their next class. The guardsmen all claimed they were responding to sniper fire but this was never proven, and many guards testified that they feared for their lives. It remains one of America’s darkest days, and despite numerous hearings and testimonies, there have been no arrests made, charges filed, nor any convictions.

The Downward Slide

The shootings were reported in every newspaper and television station around the country, igniting a national student strike that forced the closure of many universities and colleges. It was also speculated by many (including Nixon’s top aide H.R. Haldeman) that the Ohio shootings marked a downward slide that led to the fall of the Nixon Administration, sealed by Watergate. Many writings continued the speculation on how such a senseless and unnecessary event occurred. The shootings were also the subject of a protest song by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young entitled Four Dead in Ohio. To this day the shootings are still being investigated.