The phrase “school shooting” conjures a very specific image among 21st century Americans: the lone gunman, mental illness, and national outcry over gun control. Years ago, this was not necessarily the case. One of the most famous massacres on school grounds occurred at the hands of our very own government following protests and the American passion for civil disobedience.

 

On May 4, 1970, protesters of American incursion into Cambodia as a result of the Vietnam War were fired on by members of the Ohio National Guard. These protests were not uncommon; the diminishing popularity of the war incited what TIME Magazine would refer to as “a nation-wide student strike” to voice discontent.

 

Over the course of a terrifying 13 second period, 77 guardsmen fired 67 shots into the crowd. At the end of the chaos, four lay dead with nine more wounded.

 

 

Like many more recent stories, the moments leading up to the massacre and the impetus for the shooting remains debated. Some from the National Guard claimed that the soldiers came under fire from snipers, while others dispute that assertion.

 

A victim lies dead and a woman cries next to the body at Kent State Massacre

The Kent State Massacre began as a civil protest and ended with bloodshed at the hands of the Ohio National Guard (kentstate1970.org)

Later evidence would reveal that the soldiers fired on protesters a great distance away, likely not facing any immediate mortal danger. Nobody who opened fire ever faced repercussions for their actions.

 

With all the chaos of Ferguson and Baltimore still at the forefront of our minds, we must remember the spirit of American civil disobedience. Many agree that the tragedy at Kent State marked a turning point for the Nixon Administration and helped expedite the end of the Vietnam War. We must never shy away from our right to protest injustice — even in the face of tragedy — because having our collective voice muted will yield even costlier results for our society.

 

What are your thoughts on the events at Kent State? Have we made progress? What are your thoughts on civil disobedience? Comment below or tweet @connerws