Opinion: A few thoughts on May 4

Matt Poe

The date of May 4 holds no significance to most people. Aside from birthdays, anniversaries and Star Wars geeks who love to proclaim “May the fourth be with you” to one another, the day is just another in a long line of 365. Here and gone; over and out; fleeting like many days before and after it. But for those who work or attend classes at Kent State or anyone who lives within the Kent community, May 4 is not just another day.

Much like 9/11, its date alone has become a symbol of an entire series of events that ended tragically for almost all involved. (Note: I am not comparing the two events, just the usage of the dates.) There are three general categories to divide people in for their knowledge of May 4. The first group is the people who don’t know about the shootings that took place at Kent State on May 4, 1970, when a group of National Guardsmen fired on students protesting the Vietnam War, killing four and injuring 13 in all. I could go on about the event, but I encourage you to read it from historians, eye witnesses and archivists who could detail it much better than someone who wasn’t around at the time.

The second group of people includes those who, when you tell them you attend Kent State, reply with something commonly like “Oh, where those shootings happened?” “Yes, where the shootings happened,” is how you’ll likely reply for the twentieth different time. Those people don’t say it to be insensitive or rude or whatever you want to call it; they just don’t know much about the incident. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

The third and final group consists of two subsets of people: those alive during the time and those who go to Kent State. For anyone alive during the tragedy, you know about May 4. You know the song “Ohio” by Neil Young. You know what it did to this campus, the city, its people and—for that matter—the rest of the nation.

For students of our generation at Kent State, I think it is kind of hard at times to grasp the significance of what happened here and to understand the monuments and landmarks that we walk past virtually every day to and from class. We know those landmarks and the people on them only as names from the past; not classmates, friends and colleagues we interact with daily.  

But we fast forward to May 4, 2016, where Samaria Rice, mother of the late 12-year-old Tamir Rice—who was shot and killed by a police officer in Cleveland in 2014, will serve as the keynote speaker. The backlash she has received by some on social media is alarming. Same goes for the university.

For those people, find something better to do or try understanding how the speaker and the event are related in a time when it is increasingly important to do so. Too many of us care about the number of bullets fired, the number of innocent people killed or the color of the victims’ skin.

Instead, let’s learn from it and understand what happened, why it happened and how we can prevent further social injustice and tragedies from occurring. I like that idea much more. 

Matt Poe is a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].