Who: Three identifiable groups — students from the Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, Native Americans, and black Hebrew Israelites, a group that believes African-Americans are descendants of the Hebrews from the Bible and that theirs is the only true religion.
What: A rally of sorts, covering anti-abortion, Indigenous rights, and religious beliefs.
Where: In front of the Lincoln Memorial.
When: Last Friday, January 18, 2019.
Why: To support the anti-abortionist position; to rally for indigenous peoples’ rights, and to either gain new converts or simply discredit other religious positions.
How: The loudest ralliers ostensibly win, or the ones that make the best show of their position, or some other non-identifiable goal.
It is very easy to jump to conclusions when we see a video or hear a quick overview of some situation, such as the Catholic high school student, Nick Sandmann, standing face-to-face-close to the Native American activist, while many other students from that Catholic high school stood behind him, whether they were moving and making noise to the beat of his drum while he was chanting, or doing something else for a purpose that perhaps was intended to be making fun of him. The video appears to be saying one thing, while Nick himself says quite
In the brief interview with Savannah Guthrie that I saw on YouTube, he spoke about having every right to just stand there (in front of Mr. Nathan Phillips): “As far as standing there, I had every right to do so. My position is that I was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips…”
Perhaps I was hearing more than he intended to say, but to me, it sounded like he may well have been coached by a lawyer to say it that certain way. I was hearing his words, “as far as standing there” isolated from anything else he may have said or done. In other words, for example, if he had just thrown sticks and stones at Mr. Phillips
(which he did NOT), and ALSO just stood there, he focused on the “just standing there” part of his behavior and spoke only to that.
Then he (Nick Sandmann) added, “My position is that…” What teenager says that? And if he truly was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips, why wouldn’t he just say that he was not disrespectful (or felt or believed he was not disrespectful) to the Native American Vietnam veteran chanting and beating on his drum?
But wait! There’s more! Sometimes in life if we pull back from the up-close picture we see a different take on what the picture shows.
For example, the picture of a mother who appears to be yanking a young child’s arm might suggest child abuse when cropped up close, yet when expanded to show the whole picture can show that she is pulling her child away from danger and out of harm’s way. And yes, there was more to the situation then that above-described scenario.
No one wants to jump to conclusions, but sometimes things do look pretty obvious. What is different or “not cool” to teenagers can often be the cause for snickers or laughter and even a kind of provocative behavior that stirs up similar or worse response in others, or those around him. While Nick may well have not been doing anything that was against the law, or that called for action on the part of law enforcement, he may still have been the instigator of all the unkind behavior of the students behind him who made Mr. Phillips feel threatened.
While none of the students at large would likely think or believe that they were being unkind, the mass laughter and strange sounds or comments coming from them that seemed to be aimed directly at him for his chanting and drum sounds no doubt felt intimidating to him. Nick apparently moved closer up near Mr. Phillips’ face, blocking his path for walking among or in front of the crowd. It was that stance, with a smirk on his face, that stirred up fear in the elder activist, not knowing what could happen next, what with his school chums behind him, and a sense of hate and mocking in the air.
Coupled with that, there is the other part of this incident that happened prior to the above “standoff” with Nick, and which also filled the air with overtones of hate and possible danger to the elder
Indigenous Vietnam vet: Four black Hebrew Israelites were present and contributed to the situation by shouting out comments meant to insult Native Americans in general, such as they’re not supposed to worship eagles, buffaloes, all types of animals, and that’s why the Lord took away their land. One of the Israelites kept insisting that “Indian” meant savage, while an indigenous activist told him that the word “Indian” came from the Spanish word “indo,” which means god-like people.
The banter went back and forth with the small group of black Israelites insisting that the Native American indigenous activists need to give up their beliefs, their philosophies, and their religion and get around to worshiping the real God, calling that god by the name they believed was true. They also called out disparaging names and comments to the boys from the Catholic high school, things such as [they’re] dirty crackers and incest babies, and a bunch of future school shooters. Apparently, the Israelites did not have loving feelings for any humans other than those that believed as they did.
One of the black Israelite activists kept spouting what they believed — statements that were meant to show their righteousness and the misguidedness of all the others’ beliefs of those present while one of the other small group of Israelites was his “yes man,” saying, “That’s right!” after everything he said.
It’s no wonder the Native American, having all that in the background and the teenage smirking in his face, with all the other students egging him on and supporting Nick with their own version of smirking and mocking, felt intimidated and in fear of what likely felt like mob violence about to erupt.
So going to a Catholic school apparently does not really teach — or cannot get its students to learn— respect for others who are different from oneself; and being a Hebrew Israelite who has very strong beliefs about his religion and wants to share them does not know the difference between sharing and intimidation and arrogance. If ever we are to share our beliefs with others, would we not want to make our beliefs at the least palatable, but at best, desirable for others to be attracted to them? And is not our group behavior indicative of who we really are, our personal stated beliefs notwithstanding?
Who really wants to gravitate toward those who are yelling at us, calling us names, mocking us, and insisting they are the only ones with the truth? And does mocking in any way ever lead to peace? When will we ever learn?
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.