An outpouring of outrage is hitting social media today in response to a sweatshirt designed by Urban Outfitters that appears to mock the Kent State University shooting of 1970.
Gregory Payne, interim chair of Emerson’s Communication Studies Department, has studied the shooting extensively since the killing of four college students by the National Guard took place—writing his PhD dissertation, authoring a book and a play, and being tapped as a consultant in a television documentary on the tragedy.
“As somebody who has studied the Kent State tragedy for the past 45 years, I’m appalled by this type of commodification of the shootings,” Payne said today. “Urban Outfitters’ response, that there was no intended reference to the shootings, is outrageous as the shirt itself. By next year, can they do a shirt about the beheading of James Foley?”
The faux-vintage sweatshirt contains what appears to be the Kent State lettering and logo saturated with what look like bloodstains.
On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on unarmed students at the Kent State campus protesting the Vietnam War, killing four and injuring nine.
In a statement today, Kent State officials said the college takes “great offense” over the sweatshirt.
“We take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit,” the statement reads. “This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.”
The college then invited Urban Outfitters executives to tour the May 4 Visitors Center at Kent State, which opened two years ago, to gain perspective on the tragedy.
Payne, who is author of the book Mayday: Kent State and the play Kent State: A Requiem, hopes today’s attention on Kent State will reinvigorate interest in the facts of that fateful day.
“We still do not know the facts about what happened, and if there was an order to fire, which the latest ballistics suggest there might have been,” Payne said.