Will Our Nation Experience Another Kent State?

S. Paul Forrest
Activist Post

On May 4, 1970, four members of a group of anti-Vietnam War protestors were shot dead and nine others seriously wounded; one of which was permanently paralyzed.  

The shots that were fired came from the National Guard that was called in to quell a series of protests aimed against the government’s decision to invade Cambodia.  When a shot was heard in front of the troops, some of the troops began to fire into a crowd of students.  Soldiers who were interviewed later stated that the tension was high and nerves were unsteady.  What had led up to this tension was unceasing vitriolic condemnation of the protestors from many, including President Nixon, who was reported to have called the protestors “Bums… blowing up campuses” and the knowledge that a few nights before, the ROTC building on campus had been burned to the ground. (Source: Department of Education: Kent State.)

The historical context of this tragedy involved a deeply divided society separated by a figurative line in the sand between those who condemned the war and those who believed it was necessary to combat Communism.  The divide between these groups was largely based upon age demographics, but deeper down within the crevices of this national dissent was a social inequality centered on a system which only drafted the poor and members of racial minorities to fight what many viewed as an immoral war. 


Words to condemn the beliefs of these protestors ranged from calling them radical hippies to unpatriotic rebels both said to be supportive of Communism. The vitriolic hatred was enough to convince many in America that the police brutality seen against the protestors and eventually used in the killing of those at Kent State, was somehow justified.

Today in America, we are facing a similar battle. Though war is still an American obsession, a larger, more encompassing divide has forced the people to the streets to combat injustice once again.  Like in the 1960s and ’70s, there is an all-too evident divide between the social injustice and inequality not in the draft of our young men into the killing fields of Vietnam, but in the enlistment of a wider range of age, class and racial orientation of our fellow citizens into the killing fields of our current, economic war.
Occupy Wall Street is addressing this inequality with numbers rivaling its earlier predecessor and has spread across the country with a passion not seen since those unsettled days in our social history.  Generated by feelings of betrayal and fueled by the passionate cries of a nation tired of their country being poisoned by corruption and greed which has sent so many of our fellow, hard-working Americans into those fields, the movement is encouraging people to occupy the streets in order to denounce a system that no longer represents them. 
Since the beginning of these protests, those participating were labeled as Marxists, socialists and yes; as if straight out of the pages of our nation’s xenophobic texts: Communists.  These same insults and false accusations were spit upon the Vietnam protestors in order to generate support for the very policies the protesters were marching against; and we are again seeing the revitalization of this same free-speech-crushing rhetoric rear its ugly head.
In response to the growing numbers of disgruntled citizens stemming from the Occupy movement, sizable police ranks are emerging to control the crowds.  These police officers are engaging in actions like those seen in the Vietnam protests.  Protestors are being beaten, pepper sprayed and arrested; charged with frivolous crimes in order to justify the police state’s use of force. Instead of their actions quelling the protests, though, the officers who are daily violating their oath to protect We the People, have succeeded only in increasing the anger felt by our society, thereby fueling more protests across America.   

Making matters worse, political leaders nationwide are condemning the protests and enabling this force to be used by their officers.  Occupy Boston recently saw a protest in Dewey Square turn to violence by an otherwise reported, peaceful protest.   Mayor Thomas Menino and Police Commissioner Edward Davis say they have a hands-off policy with demonstrators as long as they remained peaceful, but Menino has been quoted as saying “civil disobedience will not be tolerated”; a seemingly contradictory statement.  Like Nixon’s condemnation of the War Protesters as “bums”, many leaders have empowered their police forces to use force with these same sentiments. 
As the Occupy movement reaches across the nation, the people involved must keep in mind a very important reality: The killings at Kent State is said to have been instigated by provocateurs. Like other protests in America including the BART protests in San Francisco and the G20 summit protests this year, provocateurs are being put into the crowds to encourage protestors to join into a riot scene.  If and when the riots begin, the police will have an open license to start using greater force and bigger weapons. The vitriol spun by corporate media would like nothing more than to pigeon hole the protesters as violent rabble to discredit the movement.
Another reality is the use of a modern version of COINTELPRO by our government to protect their corporate interests.  As explained in Wikipedia, “COINTELPRO began in 1956 and was designed to “increase factionalism, cause disruption and win defections” inside the Communist Party U.S.A. (CPUSA). However, the program was soon enlarged to include disruption of the Socialist Workers Party (1961), the Ku Klux Klan (1964), the Nation of Islam, the Black Panther Party (1967), and the entire New Left social/political movement, which included antiwar, community, and religious groups (1968).”  To believe it is not being used today against OWS is no less than naive.  This program is said to have been declared unconstitutional and ended after the ’70s, but the root elements of this counter domestic dissident ideal is not easily parted from in a society facing so many issues as ours is today and wanting of political and ideological secrecy.
The idea of a violent clash instigated by the system between OWS and the police is not so far fetched.  During the Madison protests last year, Jeff Cox, a deputy attorney general for the state of Indiana, is reported to have have said that the demonstrators were “political enemies” and “thugs” who were “physically threatening legally elected officials.”  He was reported as saying use live ammunition on the protesters.  The Wisconsin protests were not nearly as widespread as the Occupy ones.  How easy it would be to have a federal action begun with such a remark uttered from the right source.
Scarier still in this toxic brew of civil unrest is the likelihood of another Jared Lee Loughner coming out of the woodwork to take their own, schizophrenic toll on the movement.  It didn’t take a crowd of thousands to encourage him to take matters into his own hands; it took only a belief that the evil in the world could be stopped with bullets in his jumbled mind.  Combined with the evolving frustration from the police and those who are becoming angrier and angrier at the brutality exercised by them, this movement is fast approaching a coal in the tinder box scenario. All that is missing is a hot enough ember.
The leaders of Occupy Wall Street are doing all they can to keep the protestors aware of these realities, but as the numbers increase and more satellite movements pop up, the ability to control everyone and avoid the provocations of the police themselves, is a tall order.  The inability to do so may just lead to severe violence as more and more people awaken to the reality of our current, dysfunctional government and join the movement with malice in their hearts.  

With this reality in mind, along with the continued refusal to recognize OWS as a legitimate movement and the continued police attacks on the protesters, one can not help but wonder whether our nation will experience another Kent State.

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