By Joseph Barrios
Arizona Daily Wildcat
wenty-four years ago today, four students were shot to death and
nine were wounded on the Kent State University campus in Ohio when the state's National Guard confronted a crowd of students protesting the Vietnam War.
Twenty-four years ago, University of Arizona Police Department Assistant Chief Harry Hueston was there.
"That was the most disruptive act of education I've ever experienced," Hueston said. "The campus was going ballistic. Everything was screwed up."
The initial protest at Kent State was prompted by President Richard Nixon's April 30 announcement that he was sending troops into Cambodia. On Friday, May 1, an anti-war rally was staged with about 500 students on campus.
Hueston, a student at the time, served as an ROTC colonel in charge of the Reserve Officers Training Corps cadet corps at Kent State. He said ROTC was ordered to assist the National Guard in setting up a command post.
History books say Nixon's announcement sparked a wave of student strikes across the nation.
One book, co-written by a UA department head, stated that at least 75 campuses shut down for the rest of the academic year and about 30 ROTC buildings burned or bombed in the first week of May.
"(Protest) was part of social life and political life," said Michael Schaller, head of the UA History department and co-author of the book, Present Tense: The United States since 1945. "The whole education process was not controlled by the university."
The evening of May 3 at Kent State, bonfires were set and windows were smashed in Kent's downtown area. Still, officials reported then that a local motorcycle gang, "The Chosen Few," could have been responsible for the damage and not the students.
Hueston said that six helicopters flew around the campus from dawn until about 3 a.m. for the three days before May 4. He said studying was impossible because of the helicopter noise and the excess tear gas trapped inside the lobby and the first three floors of his dormitory.
"It seemed that the government wasn't listening to any request for peace," said Alan Canfora, former Kent State student and one of the nine students injured on May 4. "The students felt we had to take militant action, and we did. The only way the National Guard could suppress the demonstration was by force."
Canfora said students would protest the ROTC program on college campuses, saying once students graduated from college they would be recruited and sent to Vietnam.
Canfora, who was shot through the right wrist, now advises the Kent State May 4th Task Force, a student organization that commemorates the event every year at the school.
On May 2, 1970, an estimated 500 to 1,000 students marched around the ROTC building and attempted to burn it down. It was then that Kent Mayor LeRoy Satrom asked for the National Guard.
The Guard confronted the students about 9:30 p.m. that night, dispersing them with tear gas. By this time, the ROTC building was engulfed in fire.
An 11 p.m. curfew was declared the next day.
The Scranton Commission, the presidential commission investigating the incident, said the students, previously nonviolent, had become hostile.
The commission reported that protesters cursed the guardsmen and threw rocks at them. But, several students reported they had been stabbed with National Guard bayonets that night.
On May 4, a crowd of about 1,000 students moved around the campus as the Guard tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas again. Hueston said ROTC members were confused to be members of the Guard and challenged by protesting students who met by the Guard's command post.
Reports say witnesses heard two "explosions" or shots from the crowd of protestors.
Hueston said the cause of the shots could have been anything from firecrackers to shots from handguns in the crowd.
At 12:24 p.m. that day, a crowd of National Guardsmen marched away from students walking on an open parking lot, then abruptly turned and fired on the crowd.
Sixty-seven bullets were fired in 13 seconds.
Students Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder were killed after being shot by the National Guard.
This year, multiple guest speakers will address the school and a candlelight vigil will take place at midnight, said Stephanie Campbell, program director of the May 4th Task Force.
There have been numerous books published speculating on why the Guard turned on the crowd. Some theories say the guardsmen were given an order, while others say it was just their mind-set in a tense, chaotic environment.
Canfora said he believed the first theory about the order, acknowledging that while rocks and sticks were thrown at the Guard, there was no attack or crowd close to the guard.
Still, Hueston said it is important to remember that many of the National guardsmen at Kent State had been involved in a strike of semi-truck drivers almost eight weeks before the events of May 4.
Several books on the subject, including William A. Gordon's The Fourth of May, say the guardsmen had an average of three hours of sleep the night before May 4. Hueston also said many of the guardsmen were under 25 years old, joining the guard because they did not want to be drafted and sent to Vietnam.
"They were weekend warriors, for lack of a better word," he said.
Kent State was not the only site of violence, according to Schaller, Virginia Scharsf and Robert Schulzinger.
The entire incident hit closer to home.
On May 5, about 2,400 people formed a protest outside Old Main on the UA Mall and chanted "Hell, no, we won't go" and "two-four-six-eight, organize and smash the state."
According to the May 6, 1970 issue of the Arizona Daily Wildcat, about 200 to 250 students sat in the corridor of Old Main and refused to leave, calling the shoot-ing of the four students "murder."
Protests continued on the UA campus and around the city for weeks after the announcement.
Hueston said he remembers Kent State when he has to deal with protests. He said the country learned from what happened at Kent State when having to deal with riots and protests.
Hueston cited an event last summer when members of the Student Environmental Action Coalition stormed President Manuel T. Pacheco's office in protest of the Mount Graham observatory. Hueston said that police are willing to listen to demonstrators and allow them to protest as long as they do not interfere with the "peaceful conduct of an educational institution."
Hueston said that he often does not agree with the protest groups he deals with, "but I will protect their right to free speech to the nth degree."
But today's protestors disagree.
"They go as far as they can," said David Hodges, an environmental activist and former UA student. "It's not quite as bad as people getting shot. They definitely tread over that fine line. I think they go over that fine line."
Hodges criticized the Tucson Police Department for use of pain-compliance techniques.
UA administration avoids discussion with protestors, Hodges said. He said he feels protests are effective because its the most obvious way to get administration to hear their concerns.
"It's easy for (Pacheco) to sit in his ivory tower," Hodges said.
SEAC has interacted with UAPD and adminstration in part because Hodges said communication between SEAC and Pacheco has been difficult.
Schaller said rallies had more impact in the 70s because they were relatively new forms of protest and were centered around a much larger issues. Schaller said the Vietnam War and Civil Rights are both causes where specific legal or political action could be taken.
But today, protests have become common-place and less effective on college campuses across the country, Schaller said. Students also have to look for local and more specific issues like Mount Graham to rally behind.
"Since then ,there has been a much more refined types of tear gasses, body armor, riot sheilds and face shields and batons," said Maj. Jim Boling, Public Relations Officer for the Ohio National Guard.
Boling said the Ohio National Guard remembers the event painfully, but said the Guard has taken great efforts to avoid icidences like that.
"I think the Kent state incident, above everything else, changed the way we deal with civil distrubance; to take every recourse to keep it from becoming a lethal encounter," Boling said.
Now, students at Kent State are protesting a 5-percent rise in tuition and calling for the resignation of university President Carol Cartwright, Campbell said.
"I found that the environment is the No. 1 issue, but tuition will be a national cause," Canfora said. "The tuition issue (at Kent State) is just about ready to explode."
Canfora cited students' seige of the Administration Building at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in protest to lower the tuition cost.
"Something like that might be happening at Kent State soon," Canfora said.
"I don't ever want that to happen again," Hueston said. "That was, by far, the darkest day in education in America." Read Next Article