May 04, 2014

May 4, 1970

On May 4, 1970, four students were killed and nine wounded when National Guardsmen opened fire on anti-war protesters at Kent State University. Due to new video and audio recordings that have come to light in recent years, it now appears the protest turned violent when an FBI informant named Terry Norman was accosted while photographing the protesters. Norman panicked, drew a handgun, and fired at least three shots which the National Guard mistook as sniper fire directed at them. Several members of the National Guard opened fire, some firing into the crowd, some firing over it, and some refusing to fire. Many of the casualties were students who were not involved in the protests when bullets fired over the heads of the protesters struck students in a campus parking lot.

In no small part due to the incessant circles of blame surrounding the tragedy, the most important lessons from it have yet to be learned. The first is don't gang up on a photographer who is simply doing their job. You might not like the steps they take to defend themselves. The second is, if you are going to pull the trigger always confirm both your target and what is behind your target.

The protesters at Kent State were not "peaceful". They were violent radicals who had already burnt buildings and injured law enforcement by throwing stones, bricks, and other debris. This is the first myth that needs to be dispelled. Likewise, the FBI did not have "provocateurs" inciting the students to both protest and protest violently. The only provocateurs were members of the SDS, the very same people Terry Norman (and possibly two others) were trying to photograph. This is the second myth that needs to be dispelled.

We cannot understand history and learn the lessons she has to teach us if we insist on assigning blame to the guilty party by labeling one side "good" and the other "evil" and then building a narrative that supports these empty labels. The latter half of the 1960s was an extremely violent period where passions ran high and countless individuals made decisions based on unrealistic expectations. A century from now historians will be questioning why everyone got so worked up over things that were never real to begin with.

Wikipedia: Kent State Shootings on May 4, 1970
The Plain Dealer (May 5, 2010): New Analysis of 40 year-old KSU audio tape
Washington Post (October 8, 2010): KSU tape recording reveals sound of pistol shots
The Plain Dealer (October 8, 2010): New analysis of KSU audio tape reveals new details
Mendo Coast Current (December 20, 2010): Does Terry Norman hold key to understanding KSU shootings?
Prison Planet (November 7, 2011): New KSU video points to FBI provocateuring
Common Dreams (May 4, 2012): KSU survivors demand new independent review
Huffington Post (May 4, 2012): Many KSU questions remain unanswered
The Nation (May 15, 2013): Closure at Kent State?
Sparrow Project (May 10, 2014): Sister of slain KSU student deposed by UNHRC