OPINION: Covington Catholic High School’s history proves racism in capitol standoff

If a large group of students from Covington Catholic High School surrounding an elderly Native American man and taunting and jeering at him seems racist, it’s probably racist.

A video taken on Jan. 18 in Washington D.C. shows Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann, wearing a bright red “Make America Great Again” hat, standing motionlessly in front of Omaha elder Nathan Phillips while smirking at him without blinking. Several dozen of his classmates surround the two while chanting. The video also captures members of the mob doing the “tomahawk chop,” an over-arm chopping motion that many Native American tribes, such as the Diné and the Navajo, protest against as they find it offensive.

The situation arose when high school students, originally from Kentucky, came to D.C. to attend the March For Life. The group came across a small gathering of Black Hebrew Israelites, a group that believes African-Americans are descended from the ancient Israelites. Video surfaced of a conflict brewing between the two groups when the Black Hebrew Israelites began yelling at the boys for wearing MAGA hats.

The students gathered into a group facing the Israelites and began chanting at them. Phillips, who said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press that he came across the encounter after finishing up an Indigenous People’s March, came between the two groups to try to defuse the tension. That’s when the students surrounded him and Sandmann approached him.

After several videos surfaced showing the situation on Jan. 18, Sandmann’s family hired a public relations firm, RunSwitch PR, to handle the incident because their son’s actions placed him firmly in the national spotlight. The firm released a three-page statement from Sandmann that said he approached Phillips to “defuse” the situation and that his smile was trying to calm things down.

Phillips, on the other hand, told The Washington Post that Sandmann approached him as he was trying to escape from the crowd. He tried to move around the teen, but said the two had reached an impasse.

Reactions to this debacle have been mixed. Some are criticizing the boys’ actions, calling them racist and harmful, while others are defending them, saying that they’re young and “boys will be boys.”

Congratulations are in order for Sandmann’s family for getting ahead of the narrative, but they lose points for a lack of creativity and honesty. Sandmann’s smile wasn’t placating. It was the smile of a kid who knows there are no consequences for him. It was smug, arrogant and disrespectful, and he knew what he was doing.

The mob from Covington Catholic, an all-male private school, was deliberately racist. In the video, some students can be heard shouting “build the wall,” otherwise known as President Donald Trump’s rallying cry that, like his MAGA slogan, has come to be associated with racism and prejudice.

This is especially the case when the high school the boys go to has a long history of racism and just overall atrocious and monstrous behavior.

Covington Catholic released and quickly deleted a video that showed a student attending a basketball game in black face. A Twitter user who graduated from the school went in-depth on the bullying and abuse he received after coming out as gay. Another Twitter user detailed the experience of a black student who had gone to the high school and been horribly bullied for his skin color.

A former Covington Catholic student was charged with sexually assaulting a woman after registering as a juvenile sex offender for a similar crime. Students at Covington Catholic have also been caught on video chanting, “It’s not rape if you enjoy it” at a group of girls.

The video on Jan. 18 alone indicates that the actions of the Covington Catholic students in Washington D.C. were racist. The added context and prior actions of other students indicates that the students of Covington Catholic High School share a predominant attitude of prejudice and disregard for others.

The students who went to D.C. were racist and malicious, and to say otherwise would be to ignore the signs. They’re not “boys being boys,” they’re terrible people in need of condemnation.