Editorial: Step back, not forward

Editorial: Step back, not forward

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A video of a high school student wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat standing opposite a Native American man on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial went viral this past weekend, quickly creating a social media firestorm. 

The initial 3 minute, 45 second-clip posted by YouTube user KC Noland has received more than 4.5 million views since it was first posted Jan. 18. It spurred hundreds of thousands of individuals to criticize the teen — and his fellow students for being disrespectful and insulting to elders —  going as far as to call for the boys’ expulsion from the Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky while others sent death threats against the pictured student. In response, thousands then rallied back to the teens’ defense, saying they were unfairly judged and the Native American drummer instigating the confrontation. 

We have to question: How many people thought to stop, pause and reflect on the complex situation before passing personal judgment as to who was in the right and who was wronged? 

The all-boys catholic school students had traveled to Washington, D.C. that morning to take part in the anti-abortion March for Life rally at the National Mall. The students said they were told to assemble at the Lincoln Memorial by 5:30 p.m. to await their bus home. 

Native American Nathan Phillips, of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, is a Vietnam veteran who was attending the Indigenous People’s March simultaneously scheduled to take place at the Lincoln Memorial from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

The first video featured Phillips with a handful of other men playing a steady drumbeat to the American Indian Movement song — or AIM song — which has been described as song uniting  people with a common cause and reminder to remain calm.

A longer 1 hour, 45 minute-video of the incident later posted to YouTube filmed from another angle brought more light to the situation. It showed a third group consisting of four men who were standing at the base of the stairway to the Lincoln Monument, and were preaching about the Bible while making insulting and derogatory remarks to both the Native American protestors and the students. 

It was when the three groups interacted. Phillips and several other Native American drummers crossed the gap between the students and men that the first incident occurred. Each group was there for a different purpose, from different backgrounds and were of differing races, all coming together in one spot to protest different issues. 

It’s not lost on us that occurred a few feet from the same spot Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. Among the less famous lines in King’s speech include, “We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence.” 

At a time when political and racial tensions seem to be rising, we ask anyone who sees a photo, short video clip or quick quote and has the instant urge to react to stop. Take a step back. Evaluate the situation. Consider the context and how people’s different backgrounds may affect how they discern what happened. 

The answer to who was in the right and who was wronged may not be black and white. Rather, there’s a complex kaleidoscope of facts and perspectives that need to be fully considered. Let us not be so quick to find fault.