How Far Can You Throw a Rock?

by Brad Cotton

 ( 4 May 2012--Circleville Herald)

  “How Far Can You Throw A Rock?”—I write this question every year on the commemoration of the 4 May 1970 shootings at Kent State. I write with chalk on the asphalt of the Prentice Hall parking lot, alongside the spot where Allison Krause, age 19, died . Allison was 90 yards away, downhill, from the Guardsman who killed her. Jeffrey Miller age 20, was also 90 yards away, 20 yards or so to Allison’s left. Sandra Scheuer, age 20 and William Schroeder, 19, were each about 120-130 yards distant, downhill, all four of no possible threat to any Guardsman.  Scheuer and Schroeder were likely not even participants in the anti-war rally. They were walking by, on the way to class. Author James Michener, in his imperfect novel about the Kent State shootings wrote that world class baseball pitcher Mickey Mantle, on his best pitching day, would have posed no possible threat to the Guard from that parking lot.

Remember the character assassination of the killed and wounded students that ensued? The Guard insisted they were at risk of injury or death, that the students were charging. The Guard went so far as to plant a pistol on Jeffery Miller’s body and at later civil, criminal investigations admitted fabricating their accounts of alleged self-defense. The public insisted more of us should have been shot. Crowds threatened to shoot more of us, including parents of students slain, clergy, students from the 4 May 1970 events, myself, the Summer of 1977. We were protesting Kent State’s refusal to memorialize the shootings, going so far as to build a gym partially destroying forever the site. Thanks especially to wounded students Canfora, Stamps and many other past and current members of the May 4th Task Force, the site is now marked, interpretive markers are in place, a Kent State May 4th Visitor’s Center is in progress.

The facts strongly suggest  the shootings were premeditated. Troop “G” 2/107th Armored Cavalry and A Company 1/145th Infantry minutes before firing 67 M-1 rounds into unarmed students knelt and assumed a firing position on the football practice field—now covered by the gym whose construction we had tried to stop in 1977. The Guard then marched back up Blanket Hill, frequently looking back into the Prentice Hall parking lot at the students whose lives they would soon take forever. At the crest of the hill the Guard turned in unison and formed an offensive firing line between the Pagoda and Taylor Hall. The Guard did not panic—the Guard turned and executed the firing line maneuver with practiced precision. The Strubbe tape, made by a student from nearby Johnson Hall, and only recently subjected to modern noise subtraction analysis by forensic experts Stuart and Owen clearly records commands issued to “Fire!” immediately before the killing began. Order or no order, each Guardsman who looked through his sights and fired a 30.06 metal jacketed round into unarmed 19 and 20 year olds deserves to be held to justice.

Governor Rhodes, trying to be a tough guy for the upcoming primary election promised the Guard would “use any weapon to eradicate the problem.” The month before the Guardsman killed at Kent, then California Governor Reagan threatened students:  “If it takes bloodbath, let’s get it over with. No more appeasement.” Nixon, one president who was justifiably removed from office for lying, ( Bush the Younger got off scot-free) called Vietnam War dissenters “bums”. Within weeks 25 students were indicted at Kent for having “caused” the dissent against expansion of an immoral war— nearly all charges against the “Kent 25” evaporated when exposed to the light of the law.

The Scranton Commission concluded the shootings were “ unnecessary, unwarranted and inexcusable.” In spite of new proof on the Strubbe tape of premeditated orders to fire, Attorney General Eric Holder of the U.S. Justice Department has declined to open a new investigation. This is most unfortunate. Convictions decades later of the beatings and murders of civil rights workers in the South, often either directly orchestrated or tacitly accepted by law enforcement, state officials, citizen’s councils even the southern white church itself, upheld justice and disinfected the abscess of injustice. Better justice late than denied altogether.

The Kent students were right about the war—and right to stand up to stop it. Despite being vilified on FOX news the Occupy movement is right about the selling of our democracy to the highest bidder. Honor the Kent students by working to amend the U.S. Constitution to read that corporations ( despite what Mitt Romney says) are not people and cannot overwhelm elections with corporate cash. Honor the Kent students by connecting the dots: voter suppression laws have been enacted by multiple Republican dominated state legislators, voting districts have been redrawn to make it all but impossible for a Democrat to win, criminal Wall Street banks get a slap on the wrist while we, the people are turned out of our homes, are slaves for life to student loans, die without healthcare. Be a proud Kent State patriot: Resist!