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Kent State shootings
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Kent State shootings

The Kent State shootings occurred at Kent State University, Ohio, and involved the shooting of students by the National Guard on May 4, 1970. Over the course of four days, Kent State students protested against an American invasion of Cambodia which President Richard Nixon launched on May 1.

Table of contents
1 May 2nd
2 May 3rd
3 May 4th
4 Consequences
5 Portrayals in media
6 External links

May 2nd

Following a night of civil unrest in Kent, Kent city Mayor Leroy Satrom declared a state of emergency on May 2nd and, later that afternoon, asked Ohio Governor James Rhodes to send the National Guard to Kent to help maintain order.

When the National Guard arrived in town that evening, a large demonstration was underway; and the campus ROTC building was burning, having been set on fire by protesters. Protesters prevented the fire department from extinguishing the blaze, and the National Guard cleared the campus.

May 3rd

On Sunday, May 3rd, the campus was occupied by nearly 1,000 National Guardsmen. A press conference held by Governor Rhodes caused "the widespread assumption among both Guard and University officials...that a state of martial law was being declared in which control of the campus resided with the Guard rather than University leaders and all rallies were banned." [1] (In fact, Rhodes never did declare the State of Emergency which would have made the May 3rd and 4th protests illegal; also, martial law would not be created merely by the existence of military patrols, but would require a suspension of the civil courts.) Two separate demonstrations were dispersed later that evening by the National Guard, who fired tear gas into the crowds.

May 4th

On Monday, May 4th, a rally was scheduled to be held at noon, and University officials attempted to inform the campus community that the gathering was banned, by handing out 12,000 leaflets. An estimated three thousand people gathered on the university commons.

Just before noon the Guard ordered the crowd to disperse and fired tear gas. Because of wind, the tear gas had little effect on dispersing the crowd, some of whom were now responding to the tear gas with rock-throwing, yelling, and chants.

A group of seventy National Guard troops advanced on the protesters with fixed bayonets in an attempt to disperse the crowd. The National Guardsmen were wearing gas masks in the hot sun (obscuring their vision and causing heat exhaustion) and had little training in riot control. They soon found themselves trapped on a athletic practice field which was fenced on three sides, where they remained for ten minutes. The Guardsmen then began to withdraw back in the direction from which they had come, followed by some of the protesters.

When they reached the top of a hill, twenty-eight of the Guardsmen suddenly turned on the crowd and fired a 13-second fusillade of between 61 and 67 shots, killing four students and wounding nine. Only one of the four students killed was participating in the protest, and ironically one of the students killed, William Schroeder (who was observing but not participating in the demonstration) was a member of the campus ROTC chapter. Schroeder was shot in the back. Of those wounded, none was closer than 71 feet (22 meters) from the guardsmen. Of those killed, the nearest was 265 feet (81 meters) from the guardsmen.




Killed were Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and William Schroeder (all but Schroeder were Jewish - a fact often brought up by observers with anti-Semitic predilections, especially since Schroeder was determined to have been merely an observer and not a participant in the protest). A photograph by photo-journalism student John Filo which was taken shortly after the shooting depicts a female identified as Mary Vecchio kneeling over Jeffrey Miller's body as she cries in despair. The photograph, which won a Pulitzer Prize for Filo while still a student at Kent State, became the most enduring image of the tragedy (illustration above) and of the anti-war movement in general. It became one of the most influential images of the century, still evoking a mythic sense of grief. It brought home a fresh sense that Vietnam protesters included not only hippies, but also presumably decent suburban kids. (In actuality, Mary Vecchio was at the time a 14-year-old runaway hanging out at campus.) The photograph was distributed around the world and jelled anti-American feelings.

Following the shootings, the discussion in some ranges of the press of whether these were legal shootings of American citizens, or whether the protests were illegal, served to further galvanize uncommitted opinion by the terms of the discourse. "Massacre" was bandied about, as it had been for the Boston Massacre of 1770 in which five were killed and several more wounded.

The shootings led to protests on college campuses throughout the United States, causing many campuses to close because of both violent and non-violent demonstrations. The Kent State campus remained closed until the summer of 1970.

On May 14 of the same year, two students at the historically black Jackson State University were shot to death and several others wounded, under more questionable circumstances, without arousing nationwide attention.

In 1990, a memorialcommemorating the events of May 4th was dedicated on the campus on a 2.5 acre site overlooking the University's Commons where the shootings took place. Unfortunately, even the construction of the monument became controversial; in the end, only 7% of the design was constructed. The memorial does not contain the names of those killed or wounded in the shooting.

Portrayals in media

Neil Young of the Folk-rock group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young quickly wrote and recorded a protest song in reaction to the shootings called Ohio. The song starts with:

Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'.
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drummin'.
Four dead in Ohio.

The shootings are also mentioned in Allen Ginsberg's poem "Hadda be Playin' on a Jukebox". Also, Canadian lite industrial band Skinny Puppy has a song titled "Tin Omen" may have an obscure reference to these events in the lyrics "wayback in 68 ohio kent state was nothing so great."

External links