People Who Died In the Sixties: 4 students at Kent State
People Who Got to Live in the Sixties: All the other students at Kent State
Today we celebrate the glorious day when four baby boomers were deprived of the opportunity to grow up, name their kids “Dylan”, take up EST, and vote for Bill Clinton. Twice.
Each year at this time, this blog marks the anniversary of the Kent State shooting, aka the You’ll Never Hear the Frickin’ End of It Massacre.
The only reason Kent State matters is that a few days it led to the much more significant and therefore largely forgotten Hard Hat Riots, which we’ll get to later this week.
Anyway, let’s review what really happened at Kent State in 1970:
“Kent State was hardly a placid campus before the Cambodian operation. The university had 21,000 students, and a sizeable SDS chapter [a communist front group] devoted to making trouble. In November, 1968, for example, charges were brought against 250 members of SDS and the Black United Students who had demonstrated against police recruiting on campus.
“The charges were dropped when about 300 black students left campus demanding amnesty. On April 8, 1969, SDS led a demonstration that resulted in clashes with university police. The demonstrators demanded that the university abolish the Reserve Officers Training Corps, a crime laboratory, and a school for law enforcement training. State police were called in and quelled the disruption. SDS was then banned from campus, thirty-seven students were suspended, and five were charged with assault and battery. Worse was yet to come.
“On the evening of May 1, 1970, a day after Richard Nixon announced an American counter-attack into Cambodia, students rioted in the main street of town, broke windows, set fires, and damaged cars. On May 2, a crowd of about 800 assembled on campus, disrupted a dance in a university hall, smashed the windows of the ROTC building, and threw lighted railroad flares inside. The building burned to the ground. A professor who watched the arson later told the Scranton commission, which investigated the shooting and the events leading up to it, ‘I have never in my 17 years of teaching seen a group of students as threatening, or as arrogant, or a bent on destruction.’
“When fireman arrived students threw rocks at them, slashed their hoses with machetes, took away hoses and turned them on the firefighters. The police finally stopped the riot with tear gas. The National Guard was called in by the governor on May 2 and student rioters pelted them with rocks, doused trees with gasoline, and set them afire. Students attempted to march into town on May 3 but were stopped by the National Guard, the Kent city police department, the Ohio highway patrol, and the county sheriff’s department. The protesters shouted obscenities and threw rocks.
“From May 1 to May 4 there were, in addition, riots in the town’s main street, looting, the intimidation of passing motorists, stoning of police, directions to local merchants to put antiwar posters in their windows or have their stores thrashed, and miscellaneous acts of arson. All of this occurred before the shooting.
“On May 4, a Monday, about a thousand students gathered on campus. Guardsmen arrived and, probably unwisely, ordered the crowd to disperse. The order was predictably ignored. The Guard fired tear gas canisters into the crowd. The Guard, consisting of a hundred men surrounded by rioters shouting obscenities and chanting “Kill, kill, kill,” were under a constant barrage of rocks, chunks of concrete and cinderblock, and canisters. Fifty-eight Guardsmen were injured by thrown objects. Several of them were knocked to the ground. They had little tear gas left, and the gas had, in any event, been made ineffective by the wind. The Guardsmen retreated up the hill, appearing frightened, and then some of them suddenly turned and fired for thirteen seconds. The firing was apparently spontaneous rather than ordered.”