BY MARK Y.A. DAVIES
In regards to the incident on Saturday, Jan. 19 in Washington, DC, relating to the Covington Catholic High School students, a group of Hebrew Israelites, and a group of Native Americans, I offer the following with the hope that all who were involved and all who have observed the many videos of the incident might find a way towards wisdom and reconciliation.
1. The particular Hebrew Israelite group that was involved behaved in an abhorrent manner. If that is how this particular group interacts with people, it would be appropriate for them to be identified as a hate group. Hopefully these men were not representative of all persons who identity with this religious group.
2. Why would a group of students representing a Catholic high school at a march in Washington, DC, be decked out in MAGA hats and sweatshirts? Was this an officially sponsored activity of the high school? If so, there are some serious issues here related to partisan political activity on the part of a religious organization.
3. Why would a chaperone of a group of high school students think that giving the go ahead for them to start yelling school chants would defuse the situation between the students and the Hebrew Israelites? This was not a wise decision.
4. The videos make it clear to me that initially the Native American group was attempting to defuse the situation by putting themselves in between the students and the Hebrew Israelite group. As the exchange between the Native American group and the students continued, there was a statement from one of the Native American persons about white people needing to go back to Europe and that this is not their land followed by this same person arguing with one of the students about this point.
5. The response of the students to the Native Americans was mocking and disrespectful. The continued taunts of the Hebrew Israelite members who apparently were trying to escalate the conflict were totally inappropriate. It reminded me of Westboro Baptist Church – truly hateful rhetoric.
6. Chaperones of youth representing a non-profit religious school at an event: Don’t show up at an event in partisan political gear. Don’t confront or react to groups like this particular group of Hebrew Israelites. That is what they want. Learn about how to de-escalate situations like the one in this case.
7. The students were not innocent in this encounter. They acted in a very mocking way in relation to the Native American persons. It might have been racism or ignorance or a combination of the two, but whatever the contributing factors, it was still totally inappropriate.
8. Covington Catholic High School: Open up meaningful dialogue and interaction with Native American communities. Find opportunities for your students to learn as much as possible about indigenous peoples and cultures and cultivate relationships with them.
9. All K-12 educational institutions: See Point 8. We are all part of the same human family, and as the prophetic Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We must live together as [siblings] or perish together as fools.”
– Mark Y.A. Davies is the Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University. Click herefor more of his essays.