Police in riot gear prepare to arrest student protesters at the University of Texas, Austin

Police in riot gear monitor student protesters at the University of Texas, Austin on April 24, 2024.

(Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images)

On Kent State Massacre Anniversary, Progressives Decry Repression of Student Protests

"The militarized repression of young people speaking out against a terrible war was shameful then and it's shameful now," said one state lawmaker.

As U.S. Republicans push for the deployment of National Guard troops to quell nationwide student demonstrations against the Gaza genocide, progressive lawmakers marked the anniversary of the 1970 Kent State Massacre by condemning police repression of peaceful protesters and reaffirming the power of dissent.

"On the 54th anniversary of the Kent State Massacre, students across our country are being brutalized for standing up to endless war," Congresswoman Cori Bush (D-Mo.) said on social media. "Our country must learn to actually uphold the rights of free speech and assembly upon which it was founded."

Fellow "Squad" member Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said that "54 years ago, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on unarmed students at Kent State."

"Students have a right to speak out, organize, and protest systemic wrongs," she added. "We can't silence those expressing dissent, no matter how uncomfortable their protests may be to those in power."

On May 4, 1970, 28 Ohio National Guard troops fired 67 live rounds into a crowd of unarmed Kent State students rallying against the expansion of the U.S.-led war in Vietnam into Cambodia. They murdered students Allison Krause, Jeffrey Glenn Miller, Sandra Lee Scheuer, and William Knox Schroeder—all aged 19 or 20. Nine other students were wounded, including one who was permanently paralyzed.

"The militarized repression of young people speaking out against a terrible war was shameful then and it's shameful now," New York state Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher (D-50) said on Saturday.

Protests against Israel's assault on Gaza—which according to Palestinian and international officials has killed, maimed, or left missing more than 123,000 Gazans—have spread to dozens of campuses across the U.S. and around the world. Police have been called in to break up protest encampments at numerous schools. Hundreds of students, faculty, and journalists have been arrested, sometimes violently.

At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), police stood by this week as a pro-Israel mob attacked a campus protest encampment before officers arrested peaceful protesters and supporters.

As law enforcement officials have tried to justify the crackdown by claiming "outside agitators" are behind the protests, some observers noted historical parallels.

"Watching what is happening at UCLA," Virginia state Sen. Mamie Locke (D-2) said on social media. "Old enough to remember Kent State, Jackson State, South Carolina State, and the dog whistles of 'law and order,' 'outside agitators.' So reminiscent of 1968."

On February 8, 1968, police shot 31 students—most of them in the back—at a protest against Jim Crow segregation at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, murdering three young Black men: Samuel Hammond Jr., Delano Middleton, and Henry Smith.

Eleven days after Kent State, police opened fire on a crowd of Black students protesting the bombing of Cambodia at Jackson State College in Jackson, Mississippi, killing Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and James Earl Green and injuring 12 others.

"Our institutions must learn from these past mistakes to not use militarized responses against unarmed, peaceful student protesters by calling in the National Guard, bringing in state troopers, or deploying police in riot gear," Laurel Krause, the sister of slain Kent State protester Allison Krause, said in a statement marking the ignominious anniversary.

"We must not repeat the horrors of Kent State 54 years later," she added.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.