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Have We Learned from Kent State? - Poster of the Week

Kent State University May 4th, 1970

Artist Unknown

Offset, Circa 1970

Place Made Unknown


May 4th marks the 54th anniversary of the shooting by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University which killed four students and injured nine. The anniversary of this massacre not only reminds us of the importance and power of student protest but it also helped turn public sentiment against the Viet Nam War.

Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968 in part because of his promise to bring an end to the Viet Nam War. This promise was broken when Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia in March 1969—but this was kept secret from the U.S. public. A year later, in late April 1970, Nixon announced the deployment of US troops into Cambodia without Congressional approval. The next day several protests erupted across college and universities to oppose the Nixon administration and the Viet Nam War, including at Kent State University. 

From May 1st through May 2nd, 1970, Kent State students peacefully demonstrated on the Commons, a large grassy area in the middle of campus where anti-war and anti-Nixon speeches were given. On May 3rd, the ROTC building on campus was burned to the ground. The following day, an estimated 3,000 people gathered in the Commons. Despite attempts to disperse the crowds, the situation continued to escalate.

Suddenly, more than 70 guardsmen fired their rifles and pistols into the air and the ground. Altogether more than 60 shots were fired in a 13-second period. Some guardsmen fired directly at the crowd below, tragically killing four students: Allison Krause, William Schroeder, Sandra Scheuer, and Jeffrey Miller. Another nine were injured, some sustaining permanent injuries. 

Some guardsmen claimed that they fired due to perceived threats to their own safety. Twelve days later, city and state police officers fatally shot two students and injured twelve at Jackson State College (now Jackson State University) in Mississippi, escalating student protests. Strikes involving more than four million students closed over 450 college campuses across the United States.

Since the beginning of Israel’s retaliation against Gaza for Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, there have been widespread protests on college campuses in solidarity with Palestinians and against the genocide in Gaza. There are currently peaceful encampments at over 120 universities in the United States demanding divestment, boycotts, cessation of campus policing, and for their universities to advocate for an immediate and permanent ceasefire.

Laurel Krause, sister of one of the Kent State victims, warned last week against the “use of militarized responses against unarmed, peaceful student protesters” and for universities to enable “zones of free speech.” But universities have not learned the lessons of Kent State.

After Columbia University summoned the NYPD in mid-April, and early May, nearly 400 pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested. Although UCLA called the LAPD and extra armed security in late April, the police did nothing to stop the violence when pro-Israel protesters violently attacked the encampment at UCLA with fireworks, gas canisters, and sticks, injuring multiple people. The following night, LAPD in riot gear dismantled the encampment despite student resistance.

Universities across the country have summoned local police and the National Guard to disassemble encampments and disrupt protests, resulting in mass arrests and violating the first amendment right of free speech. This week, the House of Representatives passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act (AAA), equating any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. This would dangerously restrict free speech and ignores the fact that many Jews oppose equating Zionism with Judaism.

The killings at Kent State strongly impacted the national consciousness at the time, but now we must ask: have we learned anything from the Kent State massacre? Will universities and the government continue to use militarized police to suppress the voices of their students?



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