Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Kent State Shootings: Another Professor is Careless with the Facts

The Kent State Shootings: Another Professor is Careless with the Facts


I just discovered a post on the Facebook site "Kent State May Fourth," which contains one of the dumbest statements I've seen in a while. There, in a post by Greg Payne, a professor of rhetoric at Emerson College in Boston (I like to call him"The Professor with the Suspicious Footnotes" because his footnotes do not check out) , was a photograph of Dean Kahler, Tom Hensley, and Carole Barbato, along with Payne's caption: "Heroes for Justice at Kent State."

Of the three individuals Payne portrays as heroes, only one, Dean Kahler, fought fro see that justice was done after the fact.  Just before the third anniversary of the shootings Dean was invited by then fellow students Paul Keane and Greg Rambo to join their efforts to get a federal grand jury investigation empaneled. Keane and Rambo, who were on friendly terms with Kahler, understood he was a living symbol of the shootings and they figured they could use him as a visual in their renewed efforts for the grand jury. At that time, I was a go-between behind Rambo and Keane, whom Rambo could not stand. Over a three-year period Keane, Rambo, and I worked with about six other individuals, including author Peter Davie, the Rev. John P. Adams of the United Methodist Church, and Arthur Krause, the father of slain student Allison Krause. A few others made occasional contributions, now and then,  but the core group of "justice fighters," "truth seekers," or whatever you want to call them (saps?), did include anyone on the Kent State faculty. Neither Barbato, Hensley nor anyone else on the Kent State faculty showed much interest in those efforts,. Even though one dishonest professor, Jerry M. Lewis, tried to convince me he helped the parents get justice, again, no one on the faculty did anything of any real consequence. (Neither, for that matter, did any of the other wounded students. They were all missing in action, and the only wounded student who sought a federal grand jury investigation three and a half decades later did so after double jeopardy applied and the statute of limitations of other federal offenses had long expired. There really was not any legal action the Justice Department could have taken at that point.)

Not only were Barbato and Hensley not involved in what journalist Bill Moyers called "the struggle for justice,"  but Hensley viewed the shootings in a different light than the victims. In his essay "The May 4 trials," which appears in one of the two May 4th textbooks he wrote, Hensley actually argued that the American court system did not fail. This despite the fact that all the Guardsman and  the students who committed serious crimes that weekend escaped punishment for anything they did.

Even more disturbing, in his more recent essay, "The May 4 Shootings at Kent State University: The Search for Historical Accuracy," Hensley and his co-author, Jerry M. Lewis, refused to even acknowledge that there was a so-called "struggle for justice" or the ongoing debate over whether or not an order to shoot. 

Barbato, at least, deserves credit for her role in creating the markers surrounding Taylor Hall. Those markers, at least, tell a visual story and are probably the most effective memorials on campus to date. However, unless there has been a major change of plans since I saw the mock-up for the May 4 Visitors Center last year, I suspect the victims'  more sophisticated supporters--those who actually struggled for justice--are going to be mighty pissed with what Barbato, Hensley, and others the university have done. Relying heavily on the same professors who could not see what took place right in front of their noses, the Center does not acknowledge the "struggle for justice" or the contributions made by Arthur Krause, Rev. John P. Adams, and the others who tried to rectify one of the most sustained injustices in modern American jurisprudence. There will be no recognition of the people who tried to find out why their loved ones or classmates were killed. They have all been erased from the university's official history.