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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Kent State & May 4: Michael Roberts, Journalist, Recalls First-Hand Experience of Tragedy

Posted By on Tue, May 4, 2010 at 1:01 PM


On this 40th anniversary of the tragedy at Kent State, you'll read plenty about what happened that day and how it's still effecting Kent State students, survivors, families and graduates to this day. You might even read some of that stuff in this fine newspaper, like the cover story written by Rick Perloff this week.

There's plenty of other good stuff out there too, like this piece by Peter Chakerian with Michael Roberts, former PD and Cleveland Magazine honcho and sometimes contributor to Scene.

Roberts was there, Roberts wrote a book about it, and Roberts is still one sharp guy with a lot to say about the subject.

"I had just come from a year in Vietnam as a reporter and knew something about the military," Roberts adds. "(The Guard) didn't have a rifle company in the Guardsmen platoon, and they had never been trained for this. That, to me, was a disaster waiting to happen."

Roberts adds that the Ohio National Guard had been armed during that weekend, patrolling the Ohio Turnpike because of snipers shooting at the road and a Teamsters union strike at the time. Roberts suggests the Guardsmen were likely "fatigued and nervous when they arrived in Kent."

The reporter's biggest lingering question to date arrived with an audio recording of the shootings a couple years ago.

"That recording — there's one shot, the volley. I'm not certain anyone knows who the first shot was."

Roberts, like many other authors and historians, considers this a possible "warning shot triggered when the Guard had their backs to the kids. Everything else was blind."

Ultimately, the situation with the Guard "came down to leadership. They should have acted in a more prudent manner," Roberts says. "Those soldiers didn't know who was in charge and, I think, lost confidence in themselves. I think they panicked. But it's easy to say that now. The times were intense back then."

Roberts will be participating in a panel discussion today at the Press Club of Cleveland called "The Reporters Who Were There," with Chuck Ayers, Janet Leach, and John Filo.

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