Forty-eight years ago today if my math is right (and it probably isn't), the Ohio National Guard opened fire into a crowd of peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders, killing four and wounding nine. Some of those killed and wounded were participating in the protest, but some were simply walking to class.
I came across an interesting statistic reading about the shooting today. It turns out that at the time, a Gallup poll found that only 11% of Americans at the time thought the National Guard to blame for the four lives they took. 58% blamed the students, and the rest had no opinion. Nixon was silent on the issue, but his press secretary had this to say: "when dissent turns to violence, it invites tragedy."
The following month, Nixon created the Scranton Commission, to "study the dissent, disorder, and violence breaking out on college and university campuses across the nation." None of the guardsmen were brought to justice.
The state of Ohio settled a lawsuit brought by the families of the dead and injured, $600,000, give or take, to be split between all plaintiffs. The state issued an "apology," saying in part "In retrospect, the tragedy of May 4, 1970, should not have occurred. The students may have believed that they were right in continuing their mass protest in response to the Cambodian invasion, even though this protest followed the posting and reading by the university of an order to ban rallies and an order to disperse."
History tends to forget the reason the National Guard was at the school in the first place - students had been rioting all weekend, had burned down the ROTC building and slashed the fire hoses as local firefighters tried to keep the blaze from spreading. Students, a handful of agitators in a sea of peaceful students, threw rocks. In the midst of the protest, a guardsman suddenly and without an order to do so opened fire into the crowd and his fellow soldiers followed suit without question. Those guardsmen were kids themselves, sleep-deprived and scared. But their fear doesn't bring those dead kids back. Their fear cannot possibly justify the deaths of those innocents.
It's hard not to draw parallels between that incident and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, or the movement started by the Parkland students. In 48 years, will we look back in amazement that we were ever so prejudiced, so primitive?