Trees and students stand as one

Thisanjali Gangoda

May 4, 1970, will forever be engrained in the history of the people and students of Kent, Ohio. A nation watched as four students were shot dead during that day of protest, as war raged on and as the policing powers of the United States grew within the campus. From that day on, every anniversary of the shootings is observed by the university and the town with speakers, poets, art and vigils held in honor of those who believed in the right to dissent.

A year after the tragic events, the university planted four trees to commemorate the lives of the slain students, trees that were planted as “a healing gesture.” In 1978, the May 4 Task Force asked the president of Kent State to immediately remove the trees, as they apparently deceived the view of how the National Guardsmen trooped over the hill and the line of fire they had. Recently, the May 4 Task Force has demanded this action be fulfilled, and today I say enough is enough.

What is the purpose of destroying the trees that are there to commemorate the lives of Jeffery Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder and Sandra Scheuer? Though there are many accounts of how the National Guard approached the students and how the shootings were initiated, the fact of the matter is that May 4 happened. It was an event that we must learn and grow from in order to understand the value of the right to protest freely. Mulling over such a petty matter as the placement of the four trees is counterproductive to what the whole anti-war movement was about, not to mention the cost of cutting them down or even uprooting and then replanting them. It isn’t worth the trouble.

These trees are innocent pawns in the politics of the May 4 Task Force and the university administration. They are in no way “obstructing” the history of May 4 and the lessons that are to be learned from that day. They are there as a quiet reminder of lost souls and broken futures. They are there so May 4 will never happen again.

The Stater article about the commemorative trees quoted Nora Rodriquez, co-chair of the May 4 Task Force, as saying, “It makes it look like they shot through all these trees into the parking lot, like they couldn’t see where they were shooting. They knew where they were shooting.” Such suspicions of the university administration and the U.S. government wanting to distract people from the truth are unreasonable because of the massive national and international news converges about the events. There are documented eyewitness accounts of the shootings, describing in detail of how the Ohio National Guard moved in on the students and the nature of the protest.

Admittedly there are times when I wonder of secret government plots and corporate influences on perceptions of history, the possibility of cover-ups that mask the reality of past events. But nevertheless, I don’t think that the removal of these trees is a pertinent issue to the events of May 4 and the processes that are needed to move on from that day. May 4, 1970, is a lesson to all of us about the importance of open dialogue and the freedom to dissent without government violence and coercion.

These trees stand tall with the students of Kent State and the history of May 4, 1970. Don’t cut them down or remove them out of bitter suspicion and paranoia. Let them be as they are — in peace.

Thisanjali Gangoda is a senior political science major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].