Monday, May 4, 2015

Shots fired

The numbers sound so bloodless, 45 years later to the day and date.

Thirteen seconds.

Sixty-one to 67 shots fired.

Thirteen casualties.

But 45 years along, Jeffrey Miller's blood still runs black on the white pavement in that iconic black-and-white photo. A 14-year-old runaway named Mary Ann Vecchio becomes an historic figure as she kneels screaming beside him. And on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio, May 4 is a day of somber remembrance, because things changed in America that day, fundamental things, hearts and minds and what it took to unlock them.

And so, today, the Blob is calling timeout. It's taking a brief detour from the sports world. My Blob, my rules.

I'll take this detour because I was 15 years old at the time, and my mind was made up. If four students died and nine were wounded on an American college campus that day, they had it coming. They shouldn't have been where they were. They shouldn't have confronted the National Guardsmen who were there to restore order after a violent weekend in which the ROTC building at Kent State burned to the ground. Law and order had to be imposed, at whatever cost.

Then I read an interview with the father of one of the victims, a rock-ribbed right wing establishment type. And when he wondered aloud what the hell these people were thinking, opening fire on a bunch of American college students as if they were some alien invader, my mind was no longer made up.

It's rare that you can pinpoint the exact moment when your social and political sensibilities reach full flower, but that moment was mine. I started calling bullshit when I saw it and I haven't stopped since.

Those four who died that day, for instance: Three were walking either to or from class, which means they were exactly where they were supposed to be -- i.e., where either they or their parents were paying for them to be. One was an ROTC student himself, a bit of irony lost on the haters.

The Guardsmen, conversely, were not the villains of the piece, either. They were scared kids not unlike the kids upon whom they fired, and they panicked. In the photos and video of those 13 seconds, their commanding officer can be seen beating on their helmeted heads, screaming at them to cease fire.

Kent State was a tragedy all the way around, in other words. It's what happens when those in power stop listening to those who have none, and when battle lines are drawn instead of consensus.

You'd think we'd have learned this lesson by now, but 45 years along we seem not only to have forgotten it but to have in fact gone in the opposite direction. Battle lines are not only drawn now, they're set in stone. Consensus is viewed as weakness. Those in power not only don't listen to those who have none, they turn those who have none into the enemy because the moneyed interests to whom they answer view them that way.

Give the powerless a little power themselves, and America will fall: It's the same tired lie the "I got mine, screw you, Jack" crowd has regularly trotted out throughout our history. And believing it only leads to division and turmoil and bloodshed.

I wonder, if Kent State happened today, what the reaction would be. Regrettably, I don't think it would change nearly as many minds as it did in 1970, when the nation supposedly was even more polarized than it is now. FoxNews would label those who died dirty thugs who were trying to install sharia law in America, or some such nonsense. MSNBC would label the Guardsmen who opened fire heartless automatons at worst and untrained hooligans at best. There would be those, as there were during the riots in Baltimore, who would mindlessly advocate shooting more of our citizens in the future if they didn't stay in line.

Elected officials in Indiana, meanwhile, doubtless would blame it all on gay marriage.

And what would all that teach us about America, 45 years along?

That we haven't learned a damn thing, sadly. Not a damn thing.

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