No one comes out blameless from Covington controversy

Cincinnati Enquirer: Nobody involved in what transpired at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington last week comes out completely clean. Not the Covington Catholic students. Not the Native American marchers. And certainly not the Black Hebrew Israelites, who were heard taunting the teenagers and yelling racial and homophobic epithets.

Yet no one has given an inch. That’s a shame. Everyone is playing the role of the misunderstood victim, and no one is willing to accept responsibility for their actions.

The bunker mentalities on all sides leave no room for concession, compromise or apology. They mirror the same starkly divided politics that had our nation embroiled in a month-long government shutdown.

There’s plenty of blame to go around.

Let’s start with Nathan Phillips, the Native American elder. Phillips isn’t acknowledging that standing 6 inches from a high school teenager’s face while beating a drum might come off as confrontational, regardless of his intentions.

Next, Covington Catholic students aren’t owning that chanting and doing a tomahawk chopping motion might be perceived as mockingly disrespectful to Native Americans.

And what of the chaperons? They certainly could have moved the students along sooner. But they aren’t owning their inaction, either. They should have been ushering the students to safety.

Finally, parents are not allowing that their children and the students could have behaved more respectfully and that some mocking took place. The Diocese could speak up. The school could speak up.


At least one CovCath student, Nicholas Sandmann, has publicly acknowledged things could have been handled better. The 17-year-old Covington Catholic student in the middle of the firestorm told the “Today Show” that “in hindsight, I wish we could have walked away and avoided the whole thing.”

We all agree with you, Nick.

Now, back to the Black Hebrew Israelites, which is a hate group, says the Southern Poverty Law Center. They might have sparked the entire ordeal. Their actions were deplorable and dead wrong.

Likewise for the death and bomb threats that Covington Catholic students and the Diocese of Covington have endured since the video of the standoff went viral. No matter how someone feels about what they saw in the nearly two hours of video footage, there is no place in a civil and just society for threats of physical violence. Police should pursue the perpetrators aggressively.

Adults on social media and in the community failed the students by rushing to judgment, publicly shaming and condemning them before all the facts were determined. And adults, including some Covington Catholic parents, are failing these students by defending their actions instead of holding them accountable in a teachable moment.

It’s unfair and, quite frankly, wrong to paint all of these Covington Catholic students with the broad brush of racism, entitlement and privilege. There’s no doubt they could have made different choices, and the optics, at least in the initial video, certainly weren’t favorable. But it is up to the adults to use this moment not to destroy these boys’ reputations, but to show them and all of our children how to be better and behave in a civil fashion.

All parents should be having a conversation with their kids about this incident. Ask them what they would do if they found themselves in a similar situation. Parents should reiterate their behavioral expectations and remind their children that video cameras are everywhere, recording their every move and word.


Covington Catholic and school officials across the region should review their rules, protocols and training for chaperons of out-of-town field trips. If they aren’t doing so already, schools should institute several hours of training and preparation, including the acting out of various scenarios, to make sure chaperons are keeping students as safe as possible.

The lessons don’t stop with children. It would be valuable if Nathan Phillips owned up to his role, understood the ramifications of his actions and voiced some culpability. Offering to meet with Covington Catholic students for an earnest discussion is a promising first step.

We all should think about how to compromise and conduct ourselves with civility, empathy and humility. Our kids mimic what they see adults do.