We are going to eradicate the problem. We’re not going to treat the symptoms.” – Ohio Governor James Rhodes 24 hours before the Ohio Nation Guard shot directly into a group of unarmed Kent State college students protesting the Vietnam War, killing 4 and wounding 9.

That bloody and iconic event transformed the nation in many ways. The aftermath produced national outrage with mass demonstrations across the country, including a nationwide student strike of more than 4 million students. Even those Americans not sympathetic to the protests were outraged by the actions of their government, and public opinion turned once and for all against the Vietnam War.

The civil lawsuits that followed were unanimously decided in favor of the victims, and even President Nixon’s own Scranton Commission officially determined that, “even if the guardsmen faced danger, it was not a danger that called for lethal force. The 61 shots by 28 guardsmen certainly cannot be justified. The Kent State tragedy must mark the last time that, as a matter of course, loaded rifles are issued to guardsmen confronting student demonstrators.

As a result, the military would spend the next several decades concentrating on developing less lethal means of controlling crowds. Rubber bullets, sting grenades, tear gas, mace, pepper spray, and electroshock devices such as Tasers eventually became the new weaponry for authorities to keep the people in line.

In other words, while we could have used the national tragedy to force new legislation aimed at strengthening the right of citizens to peacefully protest and limiting the role and rights of armed authorities during such activities, the government instead chose to simply find new “non-lethal” methods for silencing dissent and dispersing unwanted protests through fear and intimidation.

Fast forward 41 years to last Friday, when a chilling video emerged of two police officers dressed in full riot gear dousing roughly two dozen UC-Davis college students over and over again with pepper-spray as they sat peacefully on the ground exercising their right to protest.

While several of the students needed to be rushed to the hospital, and it would be unfair and irresponsible to compare this event with the Kent State shootings, on a certain level the images are even more disturbing.

Consider that in all fairness, the Ohio National Guard did at least have reason to be concerned about their safety. The students of Kent state had rioted several times recently, destroying business and personal property. They had burned the local ROTC down to the ground, and were known for being violently confrontational with authorities.

So while those students may have done nothing to invoke such retaliatory violence, it could be argued that the situation was a legitimate powder keg. It’s also worth noting that the average student killed or injured was some 300 feet away, a full football field. Again, while indefensible, it’s a fair assumption that once that first shot was fired, the other guardsmen reacted out of fear and confusion.

Now compare that to the incident at US-Davis last week, when a police officer methodically walked up to a collection of defenseless, non-threatening students sitting in peaceful demonstration, looked them in the eye, theatrically lifted and displayed his can of pepper spray, and in front of countless onlookers screaming and pleading for him to not go through with it, appeared to take pleasure as he walked down the line unleashing the chemical fury directly into the faces of each and every one of protestors – and then he turned back and did it again.

Was this an isolated incident, the act of a lone, sadistic cop? Not hardly. There have been countless cases of police brutality caught on tape since over the last few weeks alone;

There was the sickening images of Dorli Rainey, an 84 year old woman at Occupy Seattle, being carried away foaming at the mouth after being pepper-sprayed by a Seattle officer;

There was the video of the UC Berkley Police Department savagely ramming their batons straight into the stomachs of several female protestors who were merely standing in a peaceful demonstration and posing no threat;

There was the now iconic video of Scott Olsen, a 2-tour Iraq veteran being shot at point blank range with a tear gas canister as he stood perfectly still with his arms at his side, not to mention the officer seen a few moments later gently tossing a stun grenade directly into the group of kids trying desperately to assist the unconscious, seriously injured man.

The examples go on and on, and paint a frightening picture of a post-9-11 authoritarian culture which has given police officers, many of whom having a clear indignation for the people they are paid to protect, more and more freedom to callously use brutally violent means to end non-threatening situations.

Sure, they may no longer be allowed to crack skulls open with their batons or pistol whip an adolescent with an “attitude”, but they are perfectly within their legal rights to inflict “non-lethal” temporary paralysis, blindness and excruciating pain on any citizen for just about any reason. They don’t even have to get their hands dirty or worry about hiding the bruises later.

It’s been 40 years since the massacre at Kent State. I suppose the good news is that so far shooting protestors is out.

The bad news is legal torture is in.