Not everything is black and white: Covington Catholic Edition


On Saturday, January 19th, Covington Catholic High School officially got their 15 seconds of fame for all the wrong reasons. As the majority of the country has seen, the video of the Covington Catholic students and Nathan Phillips, a Native American War Veteran, has caused some serious controversy with many different stories being told of what actually took place. As the development unfolded, more information and detail came out about the event showing that not everything is as black-and-white as it seemed but more of a moral gray area. The most recent video being an hour and 45 minutes long showed the whole incident start to finish.

The sequence of events that took place was:

      The students arrived at the Lincoln Memorial after the March for Life rally. This was also the site for the Indigenous Peoples March which was almost to its conclusion when the students arrived.

      About 5 Black Israelite men started saying racial and homophobic slurs towards the students for their Make America Great Again gear. These men were not with the Indigenous Peoples March but were there for a different means of protesting.

      The students started doing their school chants to drown out the men.

      Nathan Phillips, who was a part of the Indigenous Peoples March came in between the two groups banging his drum and singing.

      The students start to dance, chant, and jump around the elder.

      Afterward, the students started talking to the Israelite men who were saying slurs them earlier.

      The men started saying more racially insensitive sentiments to the students.

      The students started chanting, “Cov. Cath is the best.” before leaving.

With all of this information and many arguments between peers, family, and angry people on Twitter, I have come to two conclusions.

First: adults need to be better role models.

Let me explain.

From the beginning, once the Covington Catholic students arrived at the memorial, the Israelite men started insulting them because of the MAGA clothing that they were wearing. This is the point that I believe that the school officials and chaperones should have found a different location for their students to stand.

I have been to Washington, DC multiple times, I know that the buses do not come in front of the Lincoln Memorial, but rather to the side of it farther away from where the Israelite men were standing. Why didn’t they simply walk towards where the buses were going to be instead of staying there? The chaperones could have taught them a lesson in knowing which battles are worth fighting. Even Nick Sandmann, the main Covington Catholic student in the video, said in the interview he had with the Today show that, “Now I wish I would have walked away.”

Even though the students are smart enough to make this decision by themselves, sometimes people, teenagers especially, need to be pushed in the right direction by those they look up to and respect.

There have been reports from some of the chaperones stating that they were trying to do this, which if so is good on their part, however, this is not what is shown in the full-length video.

Secondly, when the students started chanting their school cheers to drown out the man, why didn’t they tell the students to stop? Why did they allow the one young man to take off his clothing to “pep up the crowd” only to irritate the Israelite men more? By allowing the student to take off his clothes, the chaperones were not being good role models in showing the students how to act in a public area- especially a presidential monument. This inaction by the chaperones encouraged students to act out even more, and create a more aggressive situation.

Thirdly, even though Phillips did walk up to them, he reports he did not do it with any malicious intent. He even stated that he felt, “the spirit talking through him,” at that moment. His intentions were to walk up to pass the students to try to defuse the situation and exit through the area by chanting, yet he got caught up in the middle of the crowd.

When Phillips came in between the two groups and started banging his drum, why did the chaperones not try to stop the children from chanting and singing along in a mocking way? If the chaperones thought that he was trying to be malicious, why did they not remove the students from the area?

Lastly when Phillips did leave, why did the chaperones allow the children to walk up to the Israelite men and start asking them questions? It was clear that the men were quite hostile towards the students from the beginning. With the chaperones not being good role models and not having the students be escorted to another area, the only outcome that this would create would be one of more anger and frustration on both ends.

The reason that field trips have chaperones is to make sure that the students are safe and accounted for as well as to be role models for proper behavior. With allowing the students to stay, the entire situation was escalated into something that it did not have to be and taught the students bad lessons in respect and knowing when to walk away.

Events like this are good reminders that when you’re traveling on a school trip you are not only representing yourself, but your school, community, and state. Some of the students have made a public statement about the event stating how the events portrayed on social media did not tell the whole story.

This leads to my second conclusion that I have made about the event: two wrongs don’t make a right.

Even though they may not have realized that chanting along with the drum and jumping up and down was offensive, ignorance is not an excuse for their actions. These are 14 to 18-year-old students who understand how their actions have consequences. I agree that the Israelite men were also in the wrong and should not have been throwing insults at the students, however, it is the duty of the chaperones and school officials to remove them from these types of situations and teach them how to behave in the face of adversity. We all have lapses in judgment at times, however, the only difference is that this time it was broadcasted.

I agree that the original posts did not show the full story of what took place, however just because they were not completely at fault does not mean that they and their chaperones are absolved from all blame. The world is not black and white. Arguments on both sides can have good points, but that does not make one side more right than the other. What kind of message are we sending to these students if we are saying that what they did was okay and justifiable just because the other side did something wrong?

Social media absolutely made this event more polarized as well and with quick quips from celebrities and public officials, things got out of hand before all the facts were stated. However, even now with all the facts out in the open, there are still actions made by the students that are questionable. Both sides are trying to put the blame on the other and until there can be an agreement made that both sides had problems, this issue will never get resolved.

Luckily, Phillips is offering to travel as a representative of the Indigenous Peoples March to Covington Catholic High School and have a discussion about cultural appropriation, racism and the importance of listening to and respecting diverse cultures. Phillips said, “Race relations in this country and around the world have reached a boiling point. It is sad that on the weekend of a holiday when we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., racial hostility occurred on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where King gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.”

I think that Covington Catholic High School and the rest of the nation needs to do some soul searching about how their actions affect others and realize that their actions cannot always be swept under the rug by a PR team. I also hope that the two groups do meet and have a mutual, peaceful conversation about the event and have a greater understanding on both sides. Everyone needs to be able to come to the conclusion that neither side was blameless. Who knows, maybe every school could use this as an opportunity to learn a lesson in tolerance, acceptance, critical thinking social media skills, and understanding.