William Moses Kunstler
May 4, 1990
Thank you very much Bill (William Kunstler is referring to Bill Whitaker who had just introduced him.) He was one young lawyer then. So was I, when all this happened. But he did mention the flag case and I just want to tell you that you have present in this room, you have Joey Johnson who was the defendant in the first flag case. He's somewhere right...There he is. He burned his flag in front of the Republican National Convention...in 1984 in Dallas. And with him is David Blaylock, who, last October after this second flag law was passed by the Federal Government, burned his flag on the steps of the Capitol to protest not only that flag law, but all the things the United States Government was doing domestically and abroad. Dave is a Vietnam Vet and he is here, somewhere. Where is he?. There he is!
That first two weeks in May of 1970 were two terrible weeks. As you know, the President invaded Cambodia, theoretically to search out sanctuaries for the Viet Cong in Cambodia. And shortly after, what was called the Cambodian Incursion took place, there were demonstrations on many campuses including this one. Now, May 4th occurred, this consonant tragedy, that we've been talking about today with speaker after speaker talking about it, in one way or another.And then, just ten days later, at Jackson State, you had, in front of Alexander Hall, a barrage of bullets bored into that dormitory which took the lives of two young black men. I came to Kent State on May 5th. We had a rally in the Kove, which I understand has been burned since then, but was then a meeting place in the town of Kent. It was wall to wall people that came in to try to organize around what had happened the day before. We did organize a legal defense team. It included Ramsey Clark and many other people who came in [and] gave their services.We formed a Kent State Legal Defense team, which proved to be extremely successful. And then when the hurt had barely begun to subside, the news of Jackson State came and I ran down to Jackson, Mississippi where I gave, in another cafe or bar, I gave the same sort of speech I had given at Kent State and the same reaction occurred there. A legal defense team was organized and the same emotions were parlayed into some sort of an organization against the authorities firing willy-nilly into a dormitory containing black students.
Some years ago in 1977, I came back here and in the old gym we had a rally very much like this one. And it was a momentous rally for me. It was one I have never forgotten because on this stage was two men, both paralyzed by bullets in the spine. One was Ron Kovic who received his bullet in Vietnam and the other was Dean Kahler who received his on Blanket Hill. And Ron was the first one to speak and he wheeled his wheelchair up to the microphone [and] gave his speech. I can't remember a word of what he said in that speech. And then he wheeled back his wheelchair next to Dean's wheelchair and then he reached over and put his arms around Dean and , in a voice that I will never forget, that tore the heart out of all of us in that room, he said, "Now Vietnam and Kent State are united forever." And there wasn't a dry eye in the audience.
I wrote a sonnet about Kent State many years ago which I read, I beleive, back in 1977. I wrote another one the other day which I will read to you before I continue these remarks. This is called "The Kent State Massacre-May 4th, 1970."
That is my feeling about what happened here. And in the sonnet you'll notice I talk about "the orders of the navy", the governor of this state, Governor Rhodes at that time. And there must be a special spot in hell for those people who are in every sense of the word murderers. And Governor Rhodes was a murderer. Chicky (William Kunstler is referring to Roseanne "Chic" Canfora, an eyewitness to the shootings who had made a speech earlier in the program.) may not be able to forgive the Guardsmen who fired, but the real force behind that firing was the man who set the stage, created the climate and virtually induced that firing by his intemperate and irresponsible language. If there is anybody who should be doing time for those four murders, it is that man.
I hope, wherever his is, he hears these words and I hope that if there is a conscience left inside that brain, that that conscience begins to squirm. But sooner or later, if those who believe in the religious teachings of all religions and teach us that there is a place for people like that, then I hope that he is burning madly in wherever that particular hell that is preserved for him may exist. Even Dante would have a difficult time finding a place for him.
These rallies are important because, in America, so many people do forget so quickly. They run to the tube. They run to spectator sports. And there probably is no coincidence that Superbowls have Roman numerals because the Coliseum in Rome took the people's mind off what was happening down at the forum.
Similarly, and not [to] forget, one writer talking about Watergate, William Safire, a former Nixon speech writer and a columnist for the New York Times now, maybe that's a step up or down, I'm not sure. But he said that he thought his countrymen and countrywomen would soon forget Watergate because he said, in this country, it's always darkest before the yawn. And it seems to me we can't let there be darkness before the yawn, that we have to keep remembering and never forgetting.
And one reporter asked me, "Is this the time for reunion and forgiveness?" Maybe on some scores, but it's also time for remembering what Governor Rhodes and his minions did here and never forgetting what they did here and, in not forgetting, and in reminding the world, perhaps, maybe we will keep it from happening again. It is only our memory that will do that and our thoughts.
We must never forget what Frederick Douglas said, that you cannot have the ocean without the ocean's roar, that struggle must always continue, that there never is a time for green pastures or millennia, that the struggle to remain relatively free is a constant, ongoing effort and it must never stop. Our bodies must always be wherever that struggle and the moment we forget that, the moment we become lazy , the moment we sit back, then then the evil ones do their ordained tasks to us.
The streets and the alleyways and the byways are our forums and that's where we have to be if they try to reverse Roe V. Wade in the Supreme Court, if they try to bring back the back door abortion clinics with the rusty hangars and all the rest, if they try to destroy our environment, if they try to kill Blacks and Chicanos and Native Americans in the barrios and reservations and ghettos of this country, if they shoot down unarmed young people in the streets as they do in my city of New York on a regular basis, we have to react. Kent State is everywhere. It's in the back alleys of Harlem just as it was on Blanket Hill.
I would like to close and read the remarks of a Native American Holy Man, Black Elk. He watched in 1890, four days after Christmas, he watched the 7th Calvary, an army of the United States, carrying the same flag that Joey Johnson burned, a few less stars perhaps, in Dallas, Texas in 1984 and Dave Blaylock in 1989 on the steps of the Capitol, as they [the soldiers] took out their gattling guns and they mowed down three hundred Sioux men and women and children, but mainly women and children who had been herded on to what was euphemistically called the Great Sioux Reservation and shot down Big Foot and all of his three hundred fellow Native Americans. (Wounded Knee) And then after, they let them lie there for four days in a snow storm, shoveled the bodied into a common grave and Black Elk, a young man, watched this from a little hill out of range of the gattling gun and he said the following, " I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill in my old age I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and all scattered along the river gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died in the muddy blood and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream. The nation's hoop is broken, scattered. There is no center any longer and the sacred tree is dead." But he was wrong. The American Indian Movement proved that at Alcatraz and [at] the Bureau of Indian Affairs and back at Wounded Knee itself, the same site in1973. There is no ending to the hoop. The nation's hoop is not broken. There is a center. And the sacred tree is not dead so long as you are here and you are everywhere.