Fifty years ago at Kent State University, the military opened fire on peaceful protestors.
The soldiers said, “Disperse!”
The students declined.
Both groups were standing on public property at an Ohio State school. Not a rock was thrown.
The students apparently believed that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution would protect them.
Unfortunately, high-minded ideals and pleas for peace were no match for armed troops that were poorly trained in civil law. Rifle bullets pierced T-shirts on a sunny day in Ohio. Four students were shot to death, nine others wounded.
No one was charged with any crime.
In retrospect, I believe most people in America would now say that the event at Kent State was a terrible mistake; that the students were well within their constitutional rights; that the military was completely wrong to fire on unarmed protestors; that the students were making a righteous argument against a horrific and immoral war.
“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.”
Goodness, how some of us have such terribly short memories.
The federal government has sent troops to Oregon, their apparent mission: to “quell” the protests. And what is it that the people are protesting this time?
Injustice. Racism. Police brutality.
And most recently, they are objecting to the arrival of federal troops who are tasked with suppressing the voices of the people who are expressing their disappointment with the government.
Once again, the citizens are coming forth under the banner of the First Amendment, begging the government for a redress of their grievances, and that same government is meeting their complaints with batons and tear gas, battlefield weaponry and troops whose training is in military tactics, not civil law.
What could go wrong?
More to the point, what will nearly inevitably go wrong?
I will make a ridiculously easy prediction. If the federal troops confine themselves to protecting federal property, things may eventually calm down. But if the Feds continue to send agents or troops onto the publicly-owned city streets of Portland, the local citizenry will become more and more incensed and the protests will grow in size.
The situation will become more inflamed, and eventually, a soldier will spray a line of protestors with bullets. Some will die, many more will be wounded.
No one will be charged with any crime.
Years from now, most Americans will look back and note that what happened in Portland was a terrible mistake; that the protestors were well within their constitutional rights; that the military was completely wrong to fire on unarmed protestors; that the citizens were making a righteous argument and pointing out a grievance against a government that they felt was failing them.
And so, the dead protestors will be martyred. But right now, if it was your sister who stepped in front of a Federal bullet, what would you feel? Better yet, what would you think?
“What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?”
I’m certain this message will not be well-received by many in our community, and that’s just fine. Wad it up and burn it. Make it into a target and shoot it full of holes. Preach or screech against it on a street corner of your choosing. March in the streets. And be thankful that you can do all of these things because of the benevolent shield of the United States Constitution.
If you find yourself confused or angered by what I’ve written, just go read the document. I’d suggest starting with the First Amendment.
Finally, as the wailing begins, let me be unequivocal about a few things. Arson and looting are acts of riot. Taking to the streets to protest is not riot.
Protest is part of the process that moves America forward. It is just fine to disagree with the views of the protesters, but clearly, patriotic Americans must support the right of the people to protest.
(With credit to Neil Young for the lyrics from his song, “Ohio.”)