In 1964 – (52 years ago) – police arrested almost eight hundred students on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, where several thousand had occupied the central plaza and administration building to protest the university’s rules against on-campus political activity. Some activists in what became known as the Berkeley Free Speech movement had already spent the summer traveling through the South with the Freedom Riders, registering African Americans to vote. Returning to Berkeley in the fall, they tried to seek donations for more civil rights efforts, but were stymied by the university’s tight restrictions on political speech, organizing, and fund-raising. When the resulting student protests led to a sit-in of the university’s administration building, California Governor Pat Brown authorized police to move in. But despite hundreds of arrests, and despite charges later brought against the demonstrators, many Californians thought the state had been too lenient. The conservative backlash led directly to the 1966 election of Ronald Reagan as California governor, which was a crucial step in his road to the US presidency.
In 1976 – (40 years ago) – in Kingston, Jamaica, reggae singer Bob Marley and members of his household were seriously wounded by three would-be assassins who invaded his home, shot up the place, and hurried away, never to be found. An upcoming national election had given rise to street violence between rival factions loyal to parties led by the socialist prime minister, Michael Manley, and the US-backed opposition leader, Edward Seaga. Marley was scheduled to perform two days later at a free outdoor concert — and while it was billed as a politically neutral event, he was widely perceived as backing Manley and the socialists. Though the bullet in his arm left him unable to play guitar, he could still sing, and in defiance of the death threat he surprised his fans by performing the full concert with his band. But he fled to the UK soon afterward, and within a year he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor under his toenail, which would eventually spread cancer throughout his body and cause his death in 1981 at the age of thirty-six.
In 1984 – (32 years ago) – in Bhopal, India, a city of more than two million people, a high-pressure gas leak occurring in the middle of the night at a Union Carbide pesticide plant blanketed the surrounding residential neighborhood with some forty metric tons of deadly methyl isocynate gas. The gas killed almost four thousand people that night. An estimated eight thousand more died within the next few weeks, and it was later determined that more than a half million people were left with either chronic or temporary illness and injuries. Investigators in Bhopal later found problems with broken equipment, poor maintenance, and inadequate safety measures. Also, staff at nearby hospitals had never been informed about the type of gas used in the plant, so they had no antidotes or treatments on hand. Thousands of farm animals also died in the accident; trees were damaged, and the area remains contaminated to this day. Seven Union Carbide employees were later convicted of causing death by negligence, but the company still maintains that the gas leak was caused by an act of sabotage.
Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi