Today in Legal History: Demonstrators Shot by Authorities at Haymarket, Kent State

On this day in 1886, someone among 200 or so workers at a labor rally near Chicago’s Haymarket Square threw a bomb into a group of 176 police officers. Police gunfire followed. When the smoke cleared, one officer lay dead, and six others died later, and 60 more were injured. No official count was ever made of dead and injured civilians, who were carried off by compatriots, explains this Chicago Public Library Web page, which gives a detailed account of the debacle. The so-called Haymarket Square Riot was a significant setback for national efforts to promote worker rights, sparking suspicion of foreign-born labor organizers and indictments of 31 suspects in Chicago who allegedly incited the Haymarket riot. Eight were eventually convicted in a controversial trial, though only four were actually executed. Because of doubt about their guilt, three still-living convicted Haymarket defendants were pardoned in 1893. Links to trial accounts and other historic materials are provided by this Library of Congress Web page.

On this day in 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard, in the aftermath of dispersing a student protest at Kent State University in Ohio over the Vietnam War escalation, fired 67 shots in 13 seconds at unarmed participants and others in the vicinity. Four were killed, sparking national indignation over the shootings – as well as prosecution of protesters and legislation targeted at controlling student demonstrations. Although efforts to criminally convict those involved in the shootings were unsuccessful, civil litigation eventually resulted in a monetary settlement for the deaths and injuries. A detailed chronological account of the protests that led to the shootings can be found on the May 4 Task Force Web page created by former students. The investigations and legal proceedings that followed the shootings are detailed in chronological order on this Kent State library special collections Web page.

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