When I was asked to write some words about the Kent State Massacre of May 1970, my mind’s eye filled like a bucket under a dripping sink; each word a drop, not of water, but of blood.
Each drop a shimmering, round, crimson mirror, which plops into a reddened basin, and overflows. Each drop is a bright place-name that communicates a world, in a word: My Lai; Kent State; Hiroshima; Philadelphia; Tulsa; Jackson State; Rosewood; Haymarket Square; Waco; Wounded Knee; Sand Creek; Fort Pillow; Attica….
Of course, for any student of history this list could go on and on and on, for massacres are integral to the American enterprise. What these blood-stained markers of history (and fairly recent, 20th century history, I might add) teach us is the ubiquity of state violence, as well as the impunity of state actors, who commit what would be called, if it happened anywhere else, crimes against humanity.
How much time in prison did the trained killers of Kent State do? How about the trained killers of the students at Jackson State?
I think they received the same sentence as the bombers of the MOVE house in Philadelphia, the same as the highly trained killers of Waco; and ultimately, the same as the killers of Amadou Diallo, and the vicious killers of Attica. No time; no sentence; for the system saw this as no crime!
Kent State teaches that a so-called “free” society will slaughter students who are exercising their alleged constitutional right of demonstrating for peace! And give awards to the killers! And do so with impunity!
The passions that drove over a quarter of a million people into the streets against the Vietnam War have cooled in 30 years, but for many, for the poor, for radical dissidents, for prisoners, and increasingly, for Black youth, the war has come home. Kent State was indeed a vile and bloody marker, but as Amadou Diallo shows us, the blood spilled by the state continues to run!
It also teaches us the very real limits of the law, when it is the state itself that commits criminal acts. All these absolutely awesome examples scream to us from the charnel house of history, and none of these vicious, premeditated mass murderers spend a single hour in a jail cell!
What does this tell us about the nature of things? In truth, weren’t these four kids at Kent State in fact liquidated because they were exercising their alleged constitutional rights? What does this reveal about the true nature of the state? Of America? Of the Constitution?
My Lai … Kent State … Hiroshima … Philadelphia … Haymarket Square … Waco … Wounded Knee … Sand Creek … Fort Pillow … Attica … Place-names of mass murder; blood drops falling into a vast red-stained bucket; a bucket called American.
MAJ © 2000