by Frank Lewis
All I could think about was May 4. The tear gas. The rubber bullets. The police. The angry students.
The Kent State shootings happened 18 years before I was born, but as I watched the Saturday night riot on College Avenue, May 4 was all I could think about. But Saturday’s riot wasn’t fueled by politics or a generation gap. It was fueled by drunk college students with an urge to light things on fire and police who refused to let students gain control.
For the past five years, College Fest has been part of the spring semester. And each year, the heat and an abundance of cheap beer leads to an out-of-control crowd, forcing the police to break up the block party. So everyone assumed this year’s festival would be the same.
After a day of drinking and gorgeous weather, things started to go awry at 8:40 p.m. According to the Daily Kent Stater, police attempted to disperse the crowd, and protesters began to throw glass bottles at officers. Police responded by firing non-lethal ammunition from paintball guns. Ten minutes later, a fire was started at the end of the street. I’ve never seen a fire that high. Everything went in, from couches to textbook-size pieces of wood. From rooftops, porches and sidewalks, students watched the fire, cheering it on.
By 9:05 p.m., police were in full riot gear at the end of the street, arresting anyone who wouldn’t leave the area. As police began to march down College Avenue, the excitement escalated to tension and fear. Suddenly, the mass of people turned and started running down the street, away from the cops. My friend Ray grabbed my hand and pulled me down the street, warning me to watch out for the shattered beer bottles covering the ground.
Once the crowd made it to the end of the street, everyone assumed the worst was over. But the festivalgoers weren’t ready to give in yet. They started three more fires. At the intersection of College Avenue and Lincoln Street, a few men pulled several street signs out of the ground, throwing them into the growing pyre. People were still running. The air smelt smoky. Finally, Ray and I decided we had to leave. I was sweaty, muddy and shaken. I wildly texted everyone in the newsroom as Ray continued to pull me by the hand away from the scene. Then I heard several popping noises.
“What’s that noise?” I asked Ray, looking up mid-text. No reply. “Answer me!” I said, hitting him. “What is that noise?”
“It’s the rubber bullets,” he said, speeding up. It was definitely time to leave.
Sunday morning, College Avenue residents began to clean up the mess from the night before. Video, pictures and first-hand accounts flooded the converged Web site for Kent State’s student newspaper, television and radio station. Fifty people had been arrested for failure to disperse. The university issued a statement saying it was “disappointed in the events that have occurred and finds the behavior inexcusable.”
Kent State was once again in the news. — Brittany Moseley