Annual Déjà Vu at Kent State
Cops Still Harrassing Peaceful Protestors 33 Years After Massacre
by Fred Pierre
May 5, 2003

KENT, OHIO - Kent State student peace activists took to the streets at the start of the war in Iraq, and again today on May 4th, the anniversary of the Kent State killings. Speeches honoring the students who were killed and wounded by the National Guard at Kent State 33 years ago were followed by an anti-war rally. As students marched on campus they were confronted by riot police who accused then of not having a permit to march and ordered the activists to disband. Protestors pushed into the road adjacent to the campus and riot cops moved in to begin arrests.

A police helicopter and squads of riot police forced marchers to disband and leave campus.

This follows a year of increasing pressure on Kent State peace activists. Last year’s May 4th march gathered nearly three hundred peace marchers who were confronted by dozens of riot cops in the middle of downtown Kent. No one was injured or arrested, and the march returned to campus. Students again marched two blocks from the campus to downtown Kent as the first U.S. troops invaded Iraq. They carried a flag and spoke for peace, holding the main downtown intersection for a few minutes. Two weeks later, leaders of the parade were arrested for marching without a permit. Seven were arrested, all students and professors from Kent State University who have been active in the social justice movement on campus, and they face potential penalties of hundreds of dollars in fines and a month in jail for their non-violent protest.

Escalating confrontations between Kent police and students participating in giant end-of-year beer and bonfire parties has spilled over into a massive crackdown on dissent and free speech. When students cannot march for peace on a university campus, what is their alternative? Hundreds of students and townspeople are asking themselves this question after a noisy anti-war march was disbanded by Kent police. Campus is again under lockdown and protestors face immediate arrest. Can it really be thirty-three years after the students died at Kent State?

Kent police claim that anarchists were plotting an event in Kent for this May 4th, and that a massive police presence was necessary to maintain order. Seven students have been arrested so far in this year’s peace march, and arrests and harrassments are continuing into the night, as students attempt to honor the past and to pray for peace. Police say they will try to identify march leaders and known activists from videotape for arrest at a later date.

It is unfortunate that Kent seems unable to escape its legacy of poor communication between police and students. By criminalizing free speech, we threaten the institution of the university. By criminalizing non-violent protestors we set the stage for future confrontations. Some people may think that riot cops can stop ideas, but ideas have a tendency to bubble out, if not bubble over.

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Fred Pierre is a journalist and store owner in Kent.

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