Covington crisis creates controversy


Photo courtesy of Miss Christine LaPorte

Dons for Life, Cathedral Catholic High School’s pro life club, poses in front of the Capitol during their recent trip to Washington D.C. for the annual March for Life.

Five Black Hebrew Israelite men, three Native American protestors, and a large group of pro-Trump high school students cross paths. With the drastic differences in opinion, a political collision was inevitable.

The situation began after the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. Jan. 18. A group of visiting students from Covington Catholic High School had just finished the march, and they were waiting for their buses at the Lincoln Memorial. As the boys waited, a group of five men associated with the Black Hebrew Israelite group began shouting profanity at the group of boys, including “this is a bunch of future school shooters” and “a bunch of babies made out of incest.”

With approval from their chaperone, the boys continued to fire back by shouting school chants and other organized cheers in defense. In a recent NBC interview, Covington student Nick Sandmann claimed their chants were an attempt to stay positive in spite of the hate speech around them. As they continued their cheers, Native American protester Mr. Nathan Phillips playing a drum and approached the group.

The released video shows Mr. Phillips walking slowly toward Sandmann while he continues to sing and play his drum. As Sandmann and Mr. Phillips lock eyes, surrounding boys begin to watch and even record the encounter. After a few minutes, a chaperone gathers the Covington students and escorts them to their buses.

An hour-long video of the situation was posted on Twitter after its occurrence, and it created a nationwide controversy. The boys in the video received overwhelming criticism, which later caused repercussions for their Catholic high school.

“My initial reaction was ‘oh no, this is not going to be good for Catholic schools,’” Cathedral Catholic High School Principal Dr. Kevin Calkins said. “I wondered why there were no adults stepping in. If I was the chaperone in that situation, I would’ve pulled them out of there. I certainly wouldn’t have let them shout back. I just would’ve said this is not the environment we need to be in.”

These instances are not rare, as the Dons For Life club even found themselves in a similar position two years ago at the March for Life in San Francisco.

“We had a similar situation in San Francisco actually,” Dr. Calkins said. “After the march was over, we were planning to take public transportation back to where we were staying, but it was so ugly and people were yelling all kinds of awful things at us. We decided to Uber.”

Politics trigger disagreements almost every day, and political marches only increase the passionate debates.

So if this instances are so common between disagreeing groups, why has this one gotten so much attention?

This is not an argument of actions. It is an argument of identity.

There was one overlapping detail common among every news story, and was the attire of the boys. Almost every Covington Catholic High School student in the video wore the notorious, pro-Trump “Make America Great Again” gear. From hats to sweatshirts to scarves, the boys outwardly owned their political views.

“It’s unfortunate that [bias] is a problem, because you’d like to believe that clothing supporting someone wouldn’t get someone really emotional,” Dr. Calkins said. “But at the same time, why are they wearing all of that?

“You’re not there for a pro-Trump rally. It’s a March for Life, and you’re representing your school. Wear your gear for your school.”

Bias has been a prevalent problem in the United States since the beginning, but the current political climate has emphasized the division between different cultures, races, religions, socioeconomic levels and political parties.

The release of this video and its immediate response by the public confirmed a negative perception of the white, Catholic, pro-life, male stereotype.

As a Catholic private high school, just like Covington, CCHS students fall victim to this negative perception.

“I don’t think the actions of these boys are an accurate representation of Catholic high school students in general because, just like everything else, there shouldn’t be a judgement of the whole based on a select few,” CCHS student Alicia Morales ‘19 said. “I also think that this video may not even be an accurate representation of the school either.”

Not only are Catholic schools now gaining a negative perception, but the March for Life has also faced a blow to its reputation. CCHS’ own Dons for Life club traveled to Washington D.C. for the annual march, putting them on the same ground as the Covington students.

“After witnessing the incredible March for Life, I was very hopeful that people across the world would hear our powerful message,” Dons for Life club leader Daniel Pronko ‘19 said. “Unfortunately, I now feel that our message has been diluted with this image of the Covington Catholic group, which doesn’t help the pro life and Catholic images. Now, it seems as if people only think of this event when they hear of the March for Life.”

The initial video that gained popularity was only about 10 seconds long, solely showing a stare down between a smirking Sandmann and Mr. Phillips, while many other Covington students surrounded the interaction, yelling incoherently and recording with phones.

“Initially, I was disgusted with the video,” Morales said. “However, this was not based entirely on its content, but the caption that it accompanied. It seemed as if the students were taunting the Native American man and portrayed him as helpless.”

Morales was not alone in this assumption. Countless news sources immediately picked up the story, reporting only based off a minimal amount of questionable information.

“I think that’s become common,” Dr. Calkins said. “We see something, and we immediately react.”

While the full video did not fully excuse the actions of the boys, many retracted their initial statements. Some even apologized for condemning the boys so aggressively without all the information.

“I later learned exactly what happened because in the five-second video, you only really see Nick Sandmann smirking at the ritual-type performance being put on by Mr. Phillips,” Morales said. “It seems, though, in the bigger picture, that neither one of them were the initial aggressors. They both acted out in response towards each other.”

While some people agree with Morales, others feel the additional information did not change their opinions that the Covington students were acting disrespectfully.

“I grew up hearing that Catholics believe everyone is equal, but people like the Covington boys have drifted away from that,” CCHS student Brigid O’Reilly ‘21 said.

Sandmann’s NBC appearance gave a face to the opposing side of the story, as he was able to explain his perspective. He also discussed the dramatic repercussions he and his school are facing, including death and shooting threats.

“While I do not think the boys are totally free from blame, I believe that the situation has been blown way out of proportion and has impacted the boys unfairly,” Pronko said. “Nick Sandmann, the most prominent member of the Covington group, as well as his family and friends have received death threats, and the boys futures may be impacted from this event.”