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Rosenfeld writes: "42 years ago, National Guardsman opened fire on anti-Vietnam protesters at Ohio's Kent State University, killing four students. Ten days later, Mississippi police fired on civil rights protesters taking refuge in a women's dormitory at Jackson State University and killed two more students."

The Ohio National Guard 42 years ago preparing to fire on students at Kent State. (photo: wiki commons)
The Ohio National Guard 42 years ago preparing to fire on students at Kent State. (photo: wiki commons)

Militarized Police Raise Fears of Another Kent State

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

04 May 12


oday is an ugly anniversary in American history: 42 years ago, National Guardsman opened fire on anti-Vietnam protesters at Ohio’s Kent State University, killing four students. Ten days later, Mississippi police fired on civil rights protesters taking refuge in a women’s dormitory at Jackson State University and killed two more students.

Four decades later, as police across the country deploy paramilitary tactics developed for fighting foreign terrorists on Occupy and some May Day protests, and as campus police ratchet up responses to tuition hike protests, we must ask, is this where things inevitably are headed-toward deadly confrontations between overly armed police and angered protesters, or just as likely, innocent bystanders caught in a crossfire?

Some of us lived through the Kent State shootings, anti-war protests and assassinations of that era. We also cannot forget the student strikes after the Kent and Jackson State killings that shut down universities and colleges. We are uneasy about a paramilitary police force's escalating tactics as Occupy protests continue into 2012.

What’s similar today, but happening faster in our Internet-driven era, is how both sides, police and a handful of provocateurs - who may not even be associated with protesters - are willing to use violence. That was the case Tuesday as bricks were thrown at police from a San Francisco roof apparently by a disgruntled veteran and black-clad men vandalized downtown storefronts in Seattle, San Francisco and other cities. These exceptions to what have been overwhelmingly peaceful protests get the most media attention, despite condemnation by protest organizers, including some who say police may have moderated their tactics since last fall.

I don’t want to be unduly cynical, but the Kent State and Jackson State protests were typical in their day - and were met by the same kinds of police shows of force that we have seen since last fall - the use of the paramilitary tools of their time. I don’t think it is a question of if police will be provoked into indiscriminately shooting or tasering if protests seem out of control, but of when they will panic and unleash deadly force.

Police have shown no reluctance to put on riot gear, conduct mass arrests and use pepper spray, teargas and concussion grenades in recent months, just as they have shown no reluctance to spy on protesters and preemptively arrest people they suspect, often erroneously, of being leaders, as happened in New York this week. Even this video from Portland, where protest organizers say police have backed down, shows SWAT team aiming high-powered rifles at unarmed protesters and videographers.

The Kent and Jackson State anniversaries underscore many questions. When and where will a fatal police overreaction take place? Who will be the victim? What will be the reaction, including from politicians who helped to unduly militarize the police?

This scenario is not an accident waiting to happen. Police use undue force all the time, where the consequence is the armed police shooter kills an unarmed victim. It has happened many times in 2012, according to statistics compiled by the government, just not yet at an Occupy or student protest.

Excessive Police Force

What happened in May 1970 has eerie echoes today, particularly in terms of the police responses.

At Kent State, 500 students came out to march a day after then-President Richard Nixon gave a televised address to announce the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. Some students burned a copy of the Constitution and their draft cards - common protests at the time. That night, some students vandalized downtown businesses and called for more protests, to “bring the war home.”

Another larger protest was planned for May 4, which was criticized by Ohio’s governor and which the university sought to shut down. But an estimated 2,000 people gathered anyway. The university requested that National Guard troops assist with the policing. What followed was a series of orders by Guard officers to disperse that were ignored, rocks thrown at the National Guard officers and their jeeps, tear gas fired at protesters in response who retreated and regrouped, and eventually, 29 of 77 guardsmen fired 67 rounds in 13 seconds at the protesters, killing four students and wounding nine - one of whom was permanently paralyzed. Two of the dead were anti-war protesters; the other two were students walking to class.

According to official inquiries after the shooting, National Guard officers said one of the protesters fired first - which was debated and never fully resolved, just as the role of a student police informer who carried a gun into the protest was also never resolved. Eyewitnesses said the guardsmen, who carried rifles with bayonets and wore gas masks, took aim at protesters several times before a sergeant started shooting with a .45 caliber pistol. The other guardsmen opened fire after that. A presidential commission that looked into the shootings criticized both the students and the Guard, but concluded the indiscriminate firing into the crowd was “unnecessary, unwarranted and inexcusable.”

Four days later on May 10, 1970, 100,000 protesters gathered in Washington, DC and 150,000 gathered in San Francisco. Meanwhile, at more than 450 high schools, colleges and university campuses across the country, an estimated 4 million students stopped attending classes to protest the Kent State shootings and the war. Then, on May 14, in Mississippi, it happened again: police shot and killed more student protesters.

The protests at Mississippi’s Jackson State were sparked by a rumor that Charles Evers, a local politician, activist and the brother of slain civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, had been killed along with his wife. After nightfall, about 100 African-American students gathered on a street that ran through the campus and lit a fire, threw rocks at passing drivers and overturned cars. The fire department responded and called state police and highway patrol for backup. The protesters refused orders to disperse and took refuge in Alexander Hall, a women’s dormitory. The standoff lasted until after midnight, when dozens of highway patrol officers armed with shotguns surrounded the building.

What happened next is unclear. Police say they saw a sniper in the upper dormitory windows and were being fired upon from several directions - a claim that an FBI investigation later found to be untrue. At least 140 shots were fired by state highway patrolmen using shotguns from 30 to 50 feet away, blowing out every window on the street side of the building. Two young men, including a high school senior who was behind the police lines, were killed. Others were injured by falling glass or trampled while fleeing. No arrests were made in the deaths but the presidential commission investigating the incident called the 28-second bombardment “an unreasonable, unjustified overreaction” to “unconfirmed sniper fire.”

History never exactly repeats itself. But its currents are never far from the present. As today’s protesters and police employ bolder tactics, the Kent State and Jackson State anniversaries should remind us that deadly mistakes can and do happen. It is the government’s responsibility to wield proportionate force, not to over-arm police and place them in a position where they could panic with deadly results.

Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008). your social media marketing partner


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+14 # Willman 2012-05-04 20:27
Law enforcers are merely TOOLS of the 1%. Used to maintain and further the staus quo of the elites.
Not many protest programs in this world are met with positivity. Most are met with violence right out of the gate. At least here in the USA it is slightly more subtle. No recent deaths yet but who knows whats in store.
Mega thousands would be needed in DC for massive protests. But then who would watch american idle, sports etc?
+6 # John Locke 2012-05-05 07:42
The real problem with our society is mr. Joe six pack who tunes out with his beer and sports and has no concern about government...

The Kent State and Jackson State murders, are but minutes away from Oakland, NYU and Los Angeles... The only difference this time there will not be 100,000 people marching on washington... there may be millions!
+15 # Dom 2012-05-04 20:52

Who Observes The Guardian? or Who Polices The Police?

What Has Happened To Us?

Authority without accountability is authority with an undue assumption of power, A BULLY! There was a time, not so long ago, that if you were in difficulty, or didn't know who to ask for help, you spoke to the police. These were people that lived, if not in your neighborhood, your community. They served and also protected. Approachable, could have described them then.

What has happened to us?

We have become slaves to a misdirection of public relations to KEEP US AFRAID. And in so doing, we have let our Constitutionall y protected right begin to erode.

Dealing with being wrong is important, and recognizing when one is wrong matters.

If you can't admit you're wrong, you should just stay home and knit sweaters. You shouldn't be involved with any occupation where your decision-making can have an impact on other people's health, liberty, or life.

SOME police and prosecutors are egotistical, ideologically, and professional motivated dicks who care more about racking up convictions than learning the truth, and will doggedly deny their self-evident mistakes or misconduct. Tell us something we don't know.

Having said this, . . .
+3 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-05-05 15:35
Quoting Dom:

Thumbs up to you, Dom.
However for the sake of precision it should read "Quis custodiet, ipsos custodia"

(Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum sonatur!)
0 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-05-05 15:36
"Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum sonatur"
Whatever you say in latin sounds deep.
0 # bluepilgrim 2012-05-05 21:05
Wanna feed your paranoia?
+3 # Dom 2012-05-04 21:01

Having said that . . .

It is a very small percentage that get noticed for all the wrong reasons, and detract public opinion from the majority who do unrewarding, some unpleasant, work on our behalf

They are, sword officers who care. When you encounter/meet one of them, ask how their day is going. Let them know you appreciate the work that they do on a thankless street. Smile. It may very well be the only one they see that day
+2 # redjelly39 2012-05-04 23:53
I dont know if this will be posted as my last 3 entries on RSN have not been BUT to understand what we are up against - watch the free online movie "Thrive" thrivemovement dot com and toward the end of the movie they talk about over-population and how expendable we all are..
+4 # robbeygay 2012-05-04 23:59
Keep up the good work OWS and keep the camera's ready for when the Police bring in the water cannons. Better yet suggest they bring in an army tank and has some little boy hold it up so USA can boast it equality to China with it's own Tianenmin Square equivalent. LOL
+4 # Michael_K 2012-05-05 00:04
We, the Sheeple, are supposed to be "the watchers" and it is our "constant vigilance" that is the essential ingredient in preserving democracy in this republic.

We have failed miserably and ignominiously.
+2 # Dom 2012-05-05 05:18

typo correction

sworn-not sword
+11 # RMDC 2012-05-05 05:39
The shootings at Kent State were an FBI Cointelpro operations. The shootings were planned and provoked. In just the last year the FBI has released thousand of previously classified documents (some of which I've read) on the Kent state killings. An FBI informant whose identity is revealed and who lives now in Akron provoked the Guard by firing four shots at them. This was all planned by the FBI.

You can be sure they are making the same plans now.
+1 # Archie1954 2012-05-05 12:31
Jim Rhodes is roasting in He** for his part in the cold blooded murder of 4 students at Kent State. If it happens again those perpetrators will suffer the same eternal fate.
+2 # michelle 2012-05-05 15:20
Remember too, the occupation of Isla Vista by the National Guard to protect the Bank of America. We made silk screened work shirts with the words Isla Vista POW on the back and wore them on the streets.

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