There are many interpretations of the events that occurred at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18, 2019. The 45th annual March for Life and the Indigenous Peoples March coincided with each other. The players involved in the controversy were a group of high schoolers from Covington High School in Kentucky, a group of Native American protestors and a group of Black Hebrew Israelites.
One news source says one thing, another disagrees. In truth, the only people that actually know what happened were the people that were there. The rest is speculation and assumption. In this situation, it’s important to be critical of the different frames for victims created by various media outlets and people. For the sake of controversy, each is willing to conflate the story to create justification for their own means.
Each side of the political spectrum, as well as media outlets, claims one of the three sides for their own. Conservatives rush to the aid of the Catholic High Schoolers, and the Liberals claim the Native American Elder. Each group has a sole representative: 16-year-old Nick Sandmann and Omaha Native American Nathan Phillips. Each has somewhat of a different story. But first, we need to address the actual catalyst for this situation.
The people that seem to have actually started the conflict is the Black Hebrew Israelites, who were recorded on video yelling things at the teens such as “racists,” “bigots,” and “incest kids.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has described them as a hate group and has said that they are an “extremist sector within the Hebrew Israelite movement whose adherents believe that Jews are devilish impostors and who openly condemn whites as evil personified, deserving only death or slavery.”
According to Phillips, he led his peers between the teens and the Black Hebrew Israelites, playing his drum and chanting, in order to diffuse the tension. At which point, he got to Sandmann and could not get past him. The two locked eyes, with Sandmann smirking. This is where we got the pictures and the short video from. Without the context, many people started making a lot of assumptions. First, people assumed that the teens surrounded Phillips and were jeering at him, but that is not the case. Phillips came to them, not the other way around. Now, with that being said, they did not respond appropriately, and the video does show some of the students mocking him.
The high schoolers cannot control how others interpret the Make America Great Again hats. However, it is pretty unbelievable that they are completely oblivious as to what the hats represent to others. It’s likely that they do not understand the full moral weight that the hat holds. Phillips and some others claim that the teens were chanting “build the wall.” However, whether it be the audio quality or some other factors, no one has really been able to confirm that this occurred.
Why is there an insistence that the group of teens be a group of bigots and racists? We have no real confirmation of that being the case. Are they wearing MAGA hats and presumably Trump supporters? Yes. Does this instantly make them bad people, and does this give people the right to put words in their mouths? I do not think so. Many of them who wore the hats simply exacerbated the situation. I don’t agree with their politics. Candidly, they are a group of teens that likely have no idea what they are representing and are likely supporting viewpoints that they haven’t really been able to fully form on their own. They are a bunch of kids; some of them were definitely acting childish and Sandmann’s expression definitely doesn’t help his case. Nonetheless, I don’t believe they should be used as political pawns. I do not believe they don’t need to be expelled, doxxed or punished.
The still-frame of Sandmann smirking in the face of Phillips is now an iconic image that people are using to bash Conservatives. I find this disconcerting because it is completely out of context. Sandmann, like the Parkland Students, had no idea that he would be used by media this way to represent ideologies that they know little about. It’s inappropriate. This is coming from someone who does not support Trump, typically votes Democrat and considers themselves a progressive.
Too many people have a knee-jerk reaction to the news. This includes the very people that create our news. It is not morally right to intentionally twist the truth in order to justify means. When we disagree with people, we do not need to take truths out of context to drum up controversy. It’s a low blow and if people find out, it has the opposite effect.
All three groups involved are protected by the free speech and right to assembly clauses in the First Amendment of the Constitution. All three groups have stake and responsibility in the situation. That is the truth. Each group assuredly had people yelling offensive things at others, and because of that, I don’t feel comfortable giving anyone the moral high ground. Furthermore, an individual can represent themselves, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they represent an entire group. Let’s see this situation for what it is: an opportunity for all sides to villainize groups that they don’t agree with. This does not create dialogue, it creates conflict. The goal should not be to latch onto whatever further polarizes our country. We don’t have to stand for it.