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Joseph Sabino Mistick

The Kent State sweatshirt: Man's inhumanity

| Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

For a graphic turn on what Scottish poet Robert Burns called “man's inhumanity to man,” look no further than the Kent State sweatshirt that Urban Outfitters marketed online last week. Faded, tattered and splattered with what appears to be blood, it represents a new low in the craven search for publicity and profit over common decency.

For anyone in college in 1970, but especially for the friends and families of the victims, the Kent State killings remain fresh. While protesting the war in Southeast Asia, four students were shot dead and nine were wounded in a clash with Ohio National Guardsmen.

Allison Krause, of Churchill, was 19 years old when caught in the hail of 67 bullets that had been fired in just 13 seconds. In her eulogy, Allison's boyfriend, Barry Levine, said that she had presented a guardsman with a flower the day before her death, saying, “What's the matter with peace? Flowers are better than bullets.”

If it seemed like open season on college students, that was reinforced 10 days later, when two students were killed and 15 were wounded at Jackson State College in Mississippi. Students at the all-black public college were demonstrating against racism.

At least 460 bullets hit a women's dormitory, where many of the students had sought cover when the shooting began. It was not the first police action on the Jackson State campus, where brutality was common at the hands of government, and it likely would have gone unnoticed but for the killings at Kent State.

Urban Outfitters, in a feeble mea culpa offered in response to the disgust caused by the marketing of the sweatshirt, said, “The tragic events that took place in 1970 are not forgotten and our company regrets that people believe we would intentionally make light of such a horrific part of our nation's history.”

So, in addition to their casual cruelty, the people at Urban Outfitters think that Americans are stupid. Citing their “history of controversial issues,” the retailer conceded that “our sincerity may be questioned.” They are right.

Kent State University nailed it, saying, “We take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit. This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.”

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who had much to do with the policies that led to the demonstrations on college campuses during the Vietnam War, has recently recognized that “the concept of order that has underpinned the modern era is in crisis.”

Retailers will do anything for Internet coverage, politicians will hurl unfounded charges to get a little airtime, sports teams will ignore the actions of star players for the sake of winning games. Even our enemies have picked up the pace, broadcasting increasingly horrifying brutality.

As Robbie Burns, the Ploughman Poet and the Bard of Ayrshire, said in his 1785 dirge, “Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn!”

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (joemistick.com).

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