Every parent is nervous about sending their child off to their first year of college for many, rational, reasons; but it’s almost certain they never thought that their child would have a barrage of bullets released upon them by the same force that they expected to protect them. This iconic image was taken within minutes of the Ohio National Guard opening fire into a peacefully protesting crowd of students and bystanders. Howard Ruffner’s photograph of the Kent State tragedy is historically significant because it reflects the constant misuse and militarization of the police throughout American history. By using the angle of what could be someone on-scene and with a clear shot of the wounded student and his aiding peers, Ruffner leaves a strong impression on the viewer.
Ruffner had already been campus for a few days prior to the shooting, taking images of the protest that had been occurring—he was even able to capture photos of the very instant the guardsmen had opened fire onto the students. But, the photo of John Cleary—then, an architecture student at Kent State University—hadn’t been chosen to grace the cover of Life Magazine by accident. It was an intense picture filled to the edges with emotion: not only are there students aiding a fellow student who had just been shot, but they were black and white working together. No longer was there black and white, just humans helping another human—equality. This was soon after the civil rights movement, and it would take a fool to think that racial issues had been even slightly dissolved due to the Civil Rights Act being passed. This was a wake-up call to America that it was time to stop working against each other, and start working with each other against a government that had it’s own agenda.
Tensions in America had already been at an all-time high due to the Vietnam War, and for many this seemed to be a tipping point. There was a significant national response to…