The Plain Dealer Editorial Board, May 12, 2010
Dozens of investigators, from the FBI to the Presidential Commission on Campus Unrest, reviewed the 1970 Kent State University shootings, but none could resolve the central mystery: Why did Ohio National Guardsmen pivot and pull the trigger in lockstep when they fired from the university’s Blanket Hill?
Over the years, there was no concrete evidence that the Guard had orders to fire.
Now there is, thanks to a sophisticated analysis of an amateur recording, according to a remarkable story by Plain Dealer Reporter John Mangels this week.
Gov. Ted Strickland should follow up on these intriguing findings and create a commission to study the tape, incident reports and eyewitness testimony and give a full accounting of that tragic day — not for the courts, but for the sake of the historical record.
Likewise, the U.S. and Ohio attorneys general should consider whether the new audio evidence is sufficient to reopen their inquiries and follow up with attempts to verify the tape’s analysis.
A contentious court case over the shootings, which killed four people and wounded nine, was settled in 1979. Ohio paid $675,000 to victims and survivors. There is no need to reopen it.
And it’s true that some important questions may never be answered. Analysis of the tape, for instance, sheds no light on who might have given the order to fire, or why.
However, if what is heard on the recording can be verified as a command, it could shed light in all of the long-hidden corners of this case for the victims left behind and those still absorbing its lessons.
Already much has been learned from the shootings at Kent State. Law enforcement now uses less lethal methods to control even unruly protesters.
Still, deadly clashes between police and civilians continue to occur in tense, hostile times that are reminiscent of Kent State during the Vietnam War.
New Orleans is reeling from recent, stunning admissions from four police officers who pleaded guilty to covering up a police shooting of innocent, unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge after the devastating Hurricane Katrina. Police now say they raced to the bridge because of reports of gunfire nearby, but when they arrived, all they saw were unarmed civilians. A U.S. District judge was right to call the revelations sickening.
It took five years for the truth to come out about Danziger Bridge, for the record to begin to be set straight and for some cops to face justice.
Uncovering the truth about the shootings at Kent State University has taken far longer, but with a new revelation in hand, Gov. Strickland shouldn’t give up on it now. History is worth getting right.