In a country so passionate about law and order it should not be necessary to remark that falsification of evidence is a crime, and agreement to do so in concert with others is conspiracy to obstruct justice. Were students to shoot down National Guardsmen or other law officers, and were the FBI then to turn up evidence that those who did the shooting agreed among themselves to tell investigators a fabricated story, it is hard to believe the news would be relegated to the back pages and met with indifference.
This—albeit in reverse—is what happened in the Jackson State and Kent State killings. In both cases, the FBI and other government agencies have turned up evidence that the Guardsmen and law officers who did the shootings also agreed among themselves to tell FBI investigators a false story. But it would take a very delicate seismograph to locate the resultant outcry. Apparently it does make a difference when the victims are only black and/or students.
In an age of instant communication, some news still seems to travel by ox cart. The fabrication of evidence in the Jackson and Kent State killings is an example. It is important because it offers another avenue of prosecution by federal grand juries, now that both the Ohio and Mississippi grand juries have refused to indict any of the Guardsmen or law officers for murder, which is a state crime.
To those who think murder is too strong a word one may recall that even Agnew three days after the Kent State shootings used the word in an interview on the David Frost show in Los Angeles. Agnew admitted in response to a question that what happened at Kent State was murder, “but not first degree” since there was—as Agnew explained from his own training as a lawyer—”no premeditation but simply an over-response in the heat of anger that results in a killing; it’s a murder. It’s not premeditated and it certainly can’t be condoned.”
Now that murder on the two campuses has been condoned by the two state grand juries, what is the federal government going to do about it? One possibility is prosecution under the civil rights statutes—and it is a commentary on the position to which students have been relegated that they, like Negroes, must look to civil rights statutes as their last resort for justice.
Another possibility is prosecution for conspiracy to obstruct justice and for making false statements to the FBI. That Jackson city police and Mississippi highway patrolmen lied to the FBI and destroyed evidence was plain enough in the Scranton Commission report on Jackson State when it was released October 1. Little attention was paid to this aspect of it, however, perhaps because the report failed explicitly to emphasize these deceptions as an area for federal grand jury action.
That there was similar evidence of fabrication at Kent State was not mentioned in the Scranton Commission report on those killings …