About the Kent State Truth Tribunal
Seeking Truth and Justice at Kent State
The Kent State Truth Tribunal opened its doors in Kent, Ohio on the 40th anniversary of the May 4, 1970 campus massacre. We set out to record the personal narratives of original 1970 Kent State witnesses and participants, many of whom had never before shared their accounts. The Truth Tribunal recorded the first-person narratives of more than 70 original witnesses and participants of the May 4, 1970 Kent State killings.
Our initiative is led by Laurel Krause, whose sister Allison was killed at Kent State, and filmmaker Emily Kunstler, daughter of civil rights attorney William Kunstler who defended Kent State survivors in subsequent legal cases.
The May 4, 1970 Kent State massacre remains a seminal event in American history yet those responsible for the shootings have refused to credibly investigate or account for what took place that day.
At the heart of the Kent State killings is the right to safely and peacefully protest as an exercise of civil liberties. The United States is a signatory to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which additionally enshrines this right in international human rights law. When a state militia takes aim, shoots and kills protesters, the government must endeavor to conduct a credible investigation, deliver accountability and make amends for the injury against its citizens.
A History of Impunity in U.S. Courts
In the Kent State massacre, the government target assassinated and wounded unarmed student protesters against the Vietnam War. Over the last five decades, those who were responsible for the killings found complete protection in government impunity by the courts at state and federal levels.
When Kent State reached the courts, eight of the guardsmen were indicted with criminal charges by a Grand Jury but the charges were later dismissed due to flaws in the case prepared by the prosecutor. To this day, the Ohio National Guard refuses to publish the findings of its investigation into command responsibility for the Kent State massacre.
Nine long years of civil litigation took Kent State all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which established the right for the families to pursue claims against the government. The Supreme Court decision was an important legal breakthrough permitting civil damages claims against high-level state officials, including Governors, for actions or omissions in their official capacity which violated the constitutional rights of individuals. However, the outcome was devastating for the families of killed student protesters, who received only $15,000 and a Statement of Regret. The families published their Civil Settlement Statement, but have still not received information about how their loved ones were slaughtered on that day.
The Kent State Truth Tribunal
The Truth Tribunal is a direct response to this history of impunity for Kent State. On the 40th anniversary of the Kent State massacre, Allison’s sister Laurel decided to learn and record the truth at Kent State from the people who were there. For decades she had watched Kent State University and the U.S. government act with institutional power and unlimited funds as they repressed the truth at Kent State and buried all evidence of government complicity in committing the Kent State massacre. The Truth Tribunal archive will stand as an enduring record of the truth, as told by those who witnessed and survived that day.
Just before his death, Boston University history professor and renowned advocate Dr. Howard Zinn sent Laurel this note:
You are right that trying to get “redress” via the judicial system is a dead end, or a maze, and that learning and spreading the truth is the most important thing you can do. That was the idea of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.