Jan. 20 (UPI) — A Roman Catholic Diocese in Kentucky said a group of high school students could be expelled after viral video showed them confronting indigenous marchers in Washington D.C.
Laura Keener, the communications director with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, across the river from Cincinnati, said students from Covington Catholic High School could be expelled after video appeared to show them taunting a group of Native American activists including a man identified as Vietnam veteran Nathan Phillips who were singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the end of the inaugural Indigenous Peoples March on Friday.
“We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C. We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips. This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person,” Keener said.
Keener added the incident is being investigated and students could face punishment, including expulsion, although it wasn’t immediately clear if Covington Catholic staff were with the students and if they could also face discipline.
Videos on Saturday showed the group of students, at least some of whom had been attending the annual March for Life, standing on the Lincoln Memorial laughing and chanting at Phillips and a small group of Native Americans marched toward the steps while rhythmically banging a drum and singing together.
One particular video showed an unidentified student wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat standing motionless in front of Phillips for several minutes.
Phillips, 64, said the Covington students, many of whom were also seen wearing similar “Make America Great Again” paraphernalia, had been getting upset at the speeches of a Black Israelite group nearby, who were in turn “saying some harsh things” to the students and in one case spit in their direction.
Phillips told the Washington Post he and his group were singing the American Indian Movement song that serves as a ceremony to send the spirits home as they attempted to intervene.
“I put myself in between that, between a rock and hard place,” Phillips said.
He added the students and some of the other people attending the March for Life rally began to chant “build that wall” and that he felt threatened as teens began to swarm around him and his group.
“It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,” said Phillips. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way, and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”
Chase Iron Eyes, an attorney with the Lakota People’s Law Project, said the encounter lasted about 10 minutes and ended when Phillips and other activists walked away.
Covington Mayor Joe Meyer published an op-ed Saturday, saying the incident was “disturbing, discouraging, and — frankly — appalling” and didn’t reflect the city.
“The point is that because of the actions of people who live in Northern Kentucky, our region is being challenged again to examine our core identities, values, and beliefs,” he wrote. “No, we’re not perfect. More progress needs to be made, and we will continue to work diligently on making it. In the meantime, Covington is proud of being a welcoming city where bigotry, discrimination and hatred will not be tolerated.”
An online petition was also posted by Matthew Lehman, who said he is a 1995 graduate of Covington Catholic, calling for the school to stop any association with the March for Life event and for the immediate termination of principal Robert Rowe “for fostering an environment where these types of actions and words are condoned.”
“I have watched with concern over the years as CovCath has become less diverse, more elite, and more expensive — even as the surrounding community has become more economically and ethnically diverse,” the petition, addressed to Rev. Roger Joseph Foys, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, said. “It is abundantly clear that CovCath has lost its way under current leadership and significant changes need to be made at the institution.”