It may be chic to insinuate there will be rioting in the streets in Denver at the Democratic National Convention. However, let’s not forget that tragedy can occur during protest clashes — like May 4, 1970, at Kent State University.On April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon’s announcement that the unpopular Vietnam War had expanded into Cambodia set off a new round of intense anti-war protests, especially on college campuses like Kent State in Ohio. Leading up to a planned May 4 demonstration on the Kent State campus were several days of smaller clashes between students and local police. By May 3, 1,000 National Guardsmen were on campus to quell the unrest.
On May 4, more than 1,000 students and protesters gathered on the university’s commons, and fearing escalating violence, security forces moved in to repel the group with tear gas. The protesters countered with rocks and bottles. Nearly 30 Guardsmen shot back, killing four students and wounding nine.
Riot control has changed immensely since then; now most police and Guard forces are trained to quell demonstrations without deadly consequences — but that has not eliminated the prospect that serious injury or death can occur for both the protesters and security personnel.
Possibly, there is already a lethal combination brewing for the Democratic convention: Political showmen like conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh and the Rev. Al Sharpton are making headlines in their calls for trouble at the Democratic convention. Training sessions on constitutional rights are set up for groups planning protests during the convention and local police are purchasing state-of-the-art riot gear in preparation.
Granted, Kent State occurred a long time ago, but let’s hope there will be a flicker of its memory of what can go so wrong when protesters, security forces and tempers rage. In this case at the 2008 Democratic convention, history does not have to repeat itself.