Americans’ pride themselves in the constitutional guarantee of peaceful protest. But when either side in a standoff pulls the trigger, turning a demonstration violent, a voice is lost. A larger message is sent. Disagreement, civil disobedience, can be deadly.
Such was the case on May 4, 1970 – the Kent State Massacre.
I was in my senior year of high school, working at a local grocery store. As the news became the topic of discussion, one of my co-workers, who was about 10 years older, commented. The essence of his view was: “The students got what they deserved. Don’t challenge the government. The Viet Nam war is right and just.”
He scared me, in more ways than one. I asked: “Is it fair — students protesting with rocks and National Guard with rifles?” His response was: “They could have got more students if they were more accurate.”
We need to be constantly reminded of the Kent State shootings. This historical incident demonstrates what happens when good people lose control. In a political disagreement, if a philosophy becomes more important than a human life we are devaluing our democracy and our society.
Look at what is going on today. Protests against the coronavirus lockdown. This creates a similar environment where human life can be seen as less important than a political agenda.
John Stevens is a lecturer in the School of Business at St. Bonaventure University.