by Tommi Avicolli Mecca
The slaughter of four students at Kent State 45 years ago made me realize that I could never be proud to be American. Not that I was.
I grew up with images on our small-screened black and white television, that my aunt bought at a discount at GE where she worked on an assembly line, of black children blown up in churches and civil rights marchers hosed down and beaten by vicious cops in the South. I learned from the news that all men and women were not created equal in this so-called land of the free. My Papa wasn’t. He was a poor Dago who barely made enough to feed his famiglia.
I wasn’t created equal, either. I knew that if I told anyone I was attracted to other boys I’d end up ostracized or dead. A nun told my mother at open house one year that I was too much like a girl. Sometimes I fantasized about visiting that bride of Jesus and telling just her how much like a girl I was.
On May 5, 1970, the day after the murders at Kent State, I joined the thousands of students who walked out of classes at Temple University in North Philly and marched peacefully towards City Hall. About half way there, the boys in blue arrived -- in tanks. They stopped, got out, and dispersed into the crowd, clubbing people. A young woman in front of me didn’t duck quickly enough and went down in a puddle of blood.
I screamed bloody murder. I don’t know why that cop didn’t club me next. He could have. Maybe I scared him by screaming so loudly. Maybe I screamed too much like a girl. No cop in Philly ever had to answer for clubbing those demonstrators. The Ohio National Guardsmen who killed the students at Kent State got off scot-free. In fact, the demonstrators were blamed for what happened. Richard Nixon went on to be re-elected.
My anger has never subsided. To this day, when I see reports of the Kent State massacre, as I did last night on PBS in a documentary about the end of the 60s, I feel it bubbling up inside me. I see that woman falling onto the ground all over again. I remember that Kent State was one of the reasons I came out of the closet when I did.
It wasn’t long after that demo that I saw a notice in the Temple News about a Gay Liberation Front meeting. Scared out of my mind but determined to do what I had to do, I walked up to the door of that room in the Student Activities Center where the meeting was being held, hesitating several times before finally going in.
I knew I had to come out. I had nothing to lose. I would never fit into this country. I would never fight its wars. In fact, I registered for the draft in 1969 as a conscientious objector. I would never work for the corporate world. I would never join any of its churches. I would never love its politicians or its police. I would never stop wanting to crush capitalism.
The anger I knew that day after the Kent State killings rises from the pit of my stomach again, 45 years later, as I hear that another black man has been murdered by police, this time in Baltimore. It never ends.