Special Collections and Archives

James Burkhart, Personal Narrative

Special Collections and Archives

James Burkhart, Personal Narrative

James Burkhart, Personal Narrative

Submitted via email, 1998


On this 28th anniversary of the shootings, I wanted to say how impressed I was when I stumbled across the archive material you have amassed over the years, surrounding the event. Reading the interviews brought back vivid memories of that afternoon on the hill. For instance I was surprised to hear reference to the lunatic plain-clothesman who suddenly materialized in the midst of the crowd, in his plaid sportcoat and terrible brown shoes, waving his handgun...and did he have a gas mask? He may have.

Reading recount after recount I realized that I didn't have much to add about the event that day...but someday I will attempt to gather my thoughts on my experiences the year before, related to the Music and Speech confrontation. I was arrested in that demonstration and charged with tresspassing.(Which I was guilty of...) But subsequently the KSU Police (Insp. Thomas Kelly and patrolman Morrison and who knows who else...) either mistakenly or purposely fingered me on a Third Degree Riot charge and an charge of Assault to Commit Bodily Harm. I was written up in the city newspaper and even got a little coverage in the Plain Dealer. I was also alleged to be an SDS leader...which, I heard later, was a hot topic at a subsequent actual SDS meeting, wherein no one seemed to know who the hell I was, or who the authorities thought they had in their grasp.

The important part of this experience for me was that during the process, I got first hand knowledge of the dangerous potential that existed within the local power structure. As I sat in the pretrial hearing and listened to Kelly and Morrison lie and concoct a bizarre tale that not only did not happen but couldn't have happened, I expected the courtroom to erupt in laughter.  Instead, my lawyer picked up his hat and wished me good luck...and I was up to my eyeballs in trouble. Everybody seemed to be interconnected, everyone on each side of the courtroom seemed to be sharing the same perspective. As the months wore on I was introduced over and over to the reality that this was a group of people who were caught off guard, were completely out of their element with this type of activity, but were damn sure going to make it their element, regardless of how many laws and rules of propriety had to be twisted and broken. The lawyer I finally secured, let me in on the secret that Ronald Kane, the prosecutor was going to use me to grease the ascent of his political career. (Did this fail? I hope.)

The court proceedings were a story in themselves, and I would have been shipped off to prison, were it not for a very wise and savvy individual who presided over the case, and saw very clearly what was happening. The judge was my saviour..(I have to look up his name) But as for the rest of them, I could see the instability in the system, the fire and wild paranoia that was existent within the local and University administrations. They were taking the whole thing very personally and would quickly resort to any expediency to exact their ends.

With this group in mind, and considering their apparent sympathetic and somewhat symmetrical relationship to the make-up  the National Guard itself, (plus an undeniable sense of class division between the students and much of the rural element constituting the Guard)...as they assembled toward the small rise (from which the shooting occurred) I got my ass out of the way and beat a hasty circular retreat that positioned me actually someplace behind them, when they turned around and cut loose.

As they fell back,( or did whatever it was they did next), I walked back up to the scene...and actually straight over to the body of the boy lying dead in the driveway. I looked down at his red bandana, and then at the blood trickling out from beneath it...my eyes traced it's flow.... in a small meander down the black pavement...Everything was flowing out and down.... innocence, hope, the First Amendment.

My optimism was eviscerated the year before. Now it was everybody else's turn.

James R. Burkhart
Berkeley, Ca.