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|Jackson State killings|
|Date||May 15, 1970 |
12:05 a.m. (Central: UTC-6)
|Victims||Phillip Lafayette Gibbs|
James Earl Green
|Perpetrators||Jackson Police Department|
Mississippi Highway Patrol
The Jackson State killings occurred on Friday, May 15, 1970, at Jackson State College (now Jackson State University) in Jackson, Mississippi. On May 14, 1970, a group of students were confronted by city and state police. Shortly after midnight, the police opened fire, killing two students and injuring twelve. The event happened only 11 days after the Kent State shootings, in which National Guardsmen killed four students at Kent State University in Ohio, which had first captured national attention.
A group of around one hundred black students had gathered on Lynch Street (named after black Reconstruction Era congressman John R. Lynch), which bisected the campus, on the evening of Thursday, May 14. The group "were reportedly pelting rocks at white motorists driving down the main road through campus — frequently the site of confrontations between white and black Jackson residents." By around 9:30 p.m. the students had started fires, thrown rocks at motorists and overturned vehicles, including a large truck, after a false rumor spread of the death of Charles Evers. Firefighters dispatched to the scene quickly requested police support.
The police responded in force. At least 75 Jackson police units from the city of Jackson and the Mississippi Highway Patrol attempted to control the crowd while the firemen extinguished the fires. After the firefighters had left the scene shortly before midnight, the police moved to disperse the crowd that had gathered in front of Alexander Hall, a women's dormitory.
Advancing to within 50 to 100 feet (15 to 30 m) of the crowd, at roughly 12:05 a.m., officers opened fire on the dormitory. The exact cause of the shooting and the moments leading up to it are unclear. Authorities say they saw a sniper on one of the building's upper floors and were being sniped in all directions. Later two city policemen and one state patrolman reported minor injuries from flying glass, and an FBI search for evidence of sniper fire was negative. The students say they did not provoke the officers. The gunfire lasted for 30 seconds, and more than 150 shots were fired by a reported 40 state highway patrolmen using shotguns from 30 to 50 feet. Every window on the narrow side of the building facing Lynch Street was shattered.
The crowd scattered and a number of people were trampled or cut by falling glass. Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, 21, a junior, and James Earl Green, 17, a senior and miler at nearby Jim Hill High School, were killed; twelve others were wounded. Gibbs was killed near Alexander Hall by buckshot, while Green was killed behind the police line in front of B. F. Roberts Hall, also with a shotgun.
The President's Commission on Campus Unrest investigated this event and also held public hearings in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C, and at Kent State. There were no arrests in connection with the deaths at Jackson State, although the Commission concluded "that the 28-second fusillade from police officers was an unreasonable, unjustified overreaction...A broad barrage of gunfire in response to reported and unconfirmed sniper fire is never warranted."
The University has memorialized the occurrence by naming the area of the shootings Gibbs-Green Plaza. The Plaza is a large, multi-level brick and concrete patio and mall on the eastern side of the school's campus that borders J. R. Lynch Street and links Alexander Hall to the University Green. A large stone monument in front of Alexander Hall near the plaza also honors the two victims. Damage to the façade of Alexander Hall caused by the rounds fired by the police is still visible.