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Don't Rush To Judge Video Of Native American And Students, Official Says


So what did you see in a video? And what didn't you see? Footage of a Covington Catholic High School student named Nick Sandmann face-to-face with an Omaha elder Nathan Phillips at the Lincoln Memorial grabbed the nation's attention over the weekend. But now differing narratives and more videos are complicating the story.


In his response, Sandmann, the student, urged people to watch a longer video. It shows contentious moments that came before what's shown in the viral video, with an apparent confrontation between the students and members of the Black Hebrew Israelites.

GREENE: I spoke with Phillips, the Omaha elder, yesterday on the program. And he told me that played into his decision to step in.


NATHAN PHILLIPS: I was coming between something that I had been witnessing, you know, on the news, in - on the Facebook - racism - because you got to understand, I came from an indigenous peoples gathering. And it was full of prayer, full of promise of a better tomorrow. You know, that's - that was the message we was putting out.

GREENE: And so it was something he said that he had been witnessing in the news.

MARTIN: In his response, President Trump also mentioned the media. He tweeted out last night that Sandmann and his fellow Covington students were treated, quote, "unfairly with early judgments proving out to be false - smeared by media," end quote. And now the Twitter accounts suspected of helping make that first video go viral has reportedly been suspended.

GREENE: So many questions people have and I want to bring in another voice here. It is someone who attended and graduated from Covington Catholic High School. It's Kentucky state Representative Adam Koenig. He's also one of the lawmakers representing the county where this school is located.

Representative Koenig, welcome to the program. Thank you.

ADAM KOENIG: Thank you for having me, David.

GREENE: So as someone who went to this school and knows the school - as you watch these videos, what do you see?

KOENIG: I see, as you stated, a complicated situation where there was a lot of people exercising their First Amendment rights in front of the Lincoln Memorial - Kentucky's son Abraham Lincoln. And, you know, obviously, some folks were there. And I'm speaking specifically of the Black Hebrew Israelites who were - it seemed like they were there to stir up problems and a bunch of kids who were there to go to the March for Life and exercise their First Amendment rights and were just waiting for a bus. And things, I guess, changed and put a lot of people in strange situations that certainly a bunch of 15, 16-year-old kids are not used to handling.

GREENE: I want to play one more clip from my interview with Nathan Phillips, the Omaha elder, yesterday because he was talking about the actions of the students from Covington High and the actions about this one student Sandmann. This is what he said.


PHILLIPS: It's not so much that I want punishment, but this young man has to come to some kind of understanding of where he was at and what he did.

GREENE: You said the students were just waiting for a bus. You know, as I've been watching these videos, they were doing a lot of chanting and, you know, a lot of yelling. Is there anything you wish or think they should have done differently having been, as you say, put in this situation?

KOENIG: Look, put yourself in the - we were all 15 or 16 once. And all of a sudden - and this is not something I had to deal with, probably, or many of your listeners. But you're surrounded by people with cameras. And you have individuals who are hurling insults and epithets at you. And that's an uncomfortable situation to be in, especially when you're in a city that you've probably never been in and you're eight, night hours away from home. So they decided to do some school cheers, which is - you know, whatever their motivation was. It was a - draw attention away, get out nervous energy. Whatever it may have been, I think they were just trying to take an uncomfortable, strange situation where strangers are yelling insults at them that are - some of which we can't even say on the radio here. And they were just trying to make it into a positive situation or get rid of the nervous energy associated with being in that situation.

GREENE: Is this a teaching moment in some way? I mean, if you were to sit down with some of these students and go through what happened, what would you tell them about next time?

KOENIG: Well, I have a lot of faith in Covington Catholic to take care of that. But obviously, I think what these kids need to know and what America needs to know is that people don't need to be rushing to judgment. And obviously, they are on the - I think the wrong side of that where they were accused of behaving poorly when I don't think that's nearly the case. Obviously, there's a lot for everyone to learn. But, you know, they obviously have seen firsthand that everyone has a camera. There's very little you can do anymore outside of your own home that's not on tape. And, you know, see - and I would encourage them to know what they've gone through with the attacks - I mean, death threats on them, attacks on - or threats of attacks on the school and know that this is not the way to behave online or in life. And hopefully, this will be a opportunity for them to teach that to their children to behave in such a way as to model-correct behavior with social media and hopefully encourage others to do the same.

GREENE: Can you see in the moment - you know, Nathan Phillips has talked about the experience. He's done some thinking and reflecting about what assumptions he brought into this moment. Can you see how he might have found these students as intimidating as they were chanting and jumping, not knowing what was going on?

KOENIG: Look, I don't want to get in anyone's head. I think Nick Sandmann, the young man that was right up next to Mr. Phillips, did a nice job with his comments and his statement that said, look, I don't know what was going through Mr. Phillips' head. And honestly, I've been disappointed in Mr. Phillips saying what he thinks was going on in the heads of these children. And that's what these young men are. I mean, they're still kids. And I think it's unfortunate that, in this case, we had a bunch of adults often acting like kids. And we're expecting the kids to have to act like adults in this situation.

GREENE: Speaking to Kentucky state Representative Adam Koenig. He's also a graduate of Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky. And we should add that we are reaching out to Sandmann's family for an interview or a statement and have not heard from him yet. Representative Koenig, thank you very much for your time.

KOENIG: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAUSSIAN CURVE'S "BROKEN CLOUDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.