Forty-three years after the 1970 Kent State massacre that left four students dead and nine injured, survivors of the Vietnam War protest are still searching for justice, maintaining that National Guard troops murdered innocent student protesters.
In April of last year, the Justice Department rejected a request to open a new investigation, despite audio recordings made by a Kent State student named Terry Strubbe. Alan Canfora, a student injured during the Kent State shooting, believes the Strubbe recording shows that the National Guardsmen were ordered to fire upon unarmed protesters. “We have retained the services of the leading audio technology expert in America and we’re going to be analyzing the Strubbe tape recording in the next couple of weeks,” Canfora told Mint Press News.
Canfora believes the audio analysis will force the state of Ohio and the U.S. government to acknowledge the historical truth and admit fault for the student killings, saying:
“The only thing on our agenda is to attain government acknowledgement of the historical truth. We think that this is the best way that we can prevent this type of tragedy in the future. We are not interested in punishment or retribution or revenge against the National Guard. In fact, we’re hoping that once we conclusively prove that there was an order to fire, we’re hoping that some of the triggermen, the rank-and-file [National] Guardsmen that were ordered to shoot — we’re hoping that one or more of them will join with us and take a stand, and indicate that this is the historical truth.”
The May 4 Center, a nonprofit education group dedicated to preserving the memory of those killed, marked last year’s anniversary with a press conference, vowing to petition the state of Ohio and the U.S. Congress to investigate the case more thoroughly using audio evidence that Canfora believes will show the National Guardsmen committed “a willful act of murder.” Another press conference will occur in the coming weeks announcing the most conclusive audio analysis of the Strubbe recording to date.
“Previously experts have verified that there is a shouted military command to fire immediately preceding the gunfire,” Canfora said.
Regardless of the investigation’s outcome, the events at Kent State left an indelible mark on those who lived through them, a tragedy during a turbulent time of massive student protests against the war in Vietnam.
Student demonstrations were a common sight on college campuses throughout the Vietnam War. In-depth television coverage from Vietnam brought scenes of war into millions of American homes.
Trying to appease the discontented masses, former President Richard Nixon campaigned on a promise to de-escalate U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. Once elected, however, he announced the U.S. invasion of Cambodia on April 30, 1970, a dramatic about-face that fueled public outrage, especially on college campuses.
The Kent State protests, and the lesser known student killings at Jackson State in Jackson, Miss., and at Orangesburg, S.C., led to a massive student strike that closed more than 450 college campuses nationwide during the spring of 1970. Demonstrations became an everyday occurrence, with an estimated 4 million students protesting on campuses and outside military bases.
Kent State remains unresolved, with the U.S. government contending that students provoked the shooting. In an interview last year with Mint Press News, Canfora offered his frank assessment of the audio evidence saying, “You can clearly hear the verbal command culminating in the word ‘fire.’” This is then followed by a barrage of gunshots, challenging the government narrative that the shootings were an unfortunate accident, or were in response to violent students provocation.
Previous Mint Press News coverage from last year’s May 4 Kent State massacre anniversary:
The 1970 Kent State massacre that left 4 students dead and 9 injured remains a pivotal moment in the history of anti-Vietnam war protests. The shootings of unarmed student demonstrators by National Guard troops left an indelible mark on America during a time of dramatic social upheaval. On the 42nd anniversary of the shootings, activists and survivors have issued a demand for justice and reparations given audio tape evidence implicating Guardsmen in the willful killing of unarmed student protesters.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) refused to open a new investigation into the decades old case stating in a recent letter to activists that their exhaustive search did not yield sufficient evidence to reopen the case. Alan Canfora, a Kent State student injured during the shootings now heads the Kent May 4 Center, a 501 (c)-(3) educational group working to preserve the history of American student activism, while petitioning the U.S. government for justice. The 42 year search for accountability has seemingly been an ephemeral one; prompting activists to adopt new, creative strategies in their continued search for closure.
42 Years and Still No Closure
Speaking about the incident that has informed his work as an activist, Canfora holds no punches when describing the shootings as “A calculated act of murder” during a recent interview with Mint Press. While the Department of Justice has denied these claims, some crucial details about the incidents preceding the shootings have surfaced, prompting renewed national attention.
Student demonstrations were a common sight on college campuses throughout the Vietnam War. In depth television coverage from Vietnam brought disturbing scenes of war into millions of American homes. The staggering number of fatalities (both civilian and military) angered a public skeptical of the purpose behind a conflict that did not have the clear, indisputable objectives of WWII.
Trying to appease the discontented masses, Richard Nixon campaigned on a promise to de-escalate U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. However once elected, he announced the U.S. invasion of Cambodia on April 30, 1970 in a dramatic about-face that fueled significant public outrage.
The Kent State protests, and the lesser known student killings at Jackson State and Orangesburg, South Carolina led to a massive student strike that closed over 450 college campuses nationwide during the Spring of 1970. Demonstrations became an everyday affair with an estimated 4 million students protesting on campuses and outside military bases.
No Accountability Despite New Evidence
In a recent interview, Canfora offered his frank assessment of the new audio evidence saying “You can clearly hear the verbal command culminating in the word fire.” This is then followed by a barrage of gunshots. This challenges the assertion that the shootings were an unfortunate accident, or perhaps that students violently provoked the National Guard to employ deadly force.
Terry Strubbe, a Kent State student put a reel-to-reel audio recorder in his dorm room window to capture the sounds of the conflict outside. The audio recording, along with the bulk of the Kent State evidence has been stored at the Yale University archives in New Haven, Connecticut. Stuart Allen, a professional audio forensics investigator conducted a thorough investigation into the recordings, concluding that there is a clear “Crack, indicative of a higher velocity weapon.”
Using the acoustic signatures of known guns, he was able to match the sound to a .38 caliber pistol with almost near certainty. This is puzzling given the fact that standard issue National Guard rifles were M1-Garands, a much larger caliber weapon. Pictured here, are the .38 caliber bullet casings recovered at the site of the shootings.
The pistol shots come just seconds before a cacophony of screams, then finally the fatal barrage of gunfire. This corroborates eyewitnesses who saw a man later identified as Terry Norman running away from the scene. Norman, believed by some to be an undercover FBI informant could be the missing link: a plain-clothes agitator who instigated the National Guard shootings.
Allen, a seasoned investigator could not conclude whether there was any causal connection between the pistol shots and the killings that ensued stating, frankly, ”To deduce a conclusion as to cause and effect, I’m not in a position to do that. This should go to the Department of Justice.”
That statement was in 2010 when Canfora and activists first submitted their request to the Department of Justice. Now having been denied their request they are seeking alternative routes for recourse.
The Memory of Protest and the State of Student Movements Today
On Thursday May 3, an activist delegation held a press conference on the Kent State campus to mark the anniversary and to make their future plans public. The group plans to petition the state of Ohio and the U.S. Congress. Should these efforts fail, Canfora and his cohort plan to reach out to international tribunals to render a decision on their case.
When asked if there has been any reform in policing protests, Canfora praised the development of “non-lethal” and “less lethal” forms of crowd control. These include the use of rubber bullets, water cannons, and bean bag launchers. However, the abuse of police power is not something relegated to the history books, as activists in the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street Movement still submit claims of heavy-handed police tactics today.
Scott Olsen, a 24 year old Iraq War veteran was shot in the head with a tear gas canister at close range during an October, 2011 Occupy protest in Oakland, California. Olsen, who had just finished serving two tours of duty lapsed into a coma, and was hospitalized for days following his injury.
The Olsen case is not an isolated one as the Oakland police department has received numerous complaints about misconduct. Now with a flood of accusations of police brutality, a federal court has issued an ultimatum to Oakland PD: Stop the overwhelmingly military type responses or face sanctions.
Given the burgeoning student protests across schools in California, Canada, and Chile, it is clear that Kent State serves as a palpable memory, perhaps an inspiration for those who demonstrate today. The issues at play are vastly different, but Mr. Canfora and his group have been working with a new generation of student activists, carrying on with what he describes as a rich history of student led protest movements.