The Diocese of Covington’s investigation of an incident involving local high school students in Washington, D.C., that went viral has found that the students did not “instigate the incident.”
On Wednesday, Bishop Rev. Roger Foys said his hopes had been realized in that the Covington Catholic students were exonerated and that they “can move forward with their lives.”
The investigation was done by Greater Cincinnati Investigation Inc. in Taylor Mill, Kentucky. The company said it found no evidence students made “offensive or racist statements” while interacting with a Native American man and a group called the Black Hebrew Israelites. But it acknowledged students performed the “tomahawk chop.”
Lance Soto, a local indigenous leader who lives in Covington, disagreed with the report’s conclusion. He said the tomahawk chop is tied to some professional sport teams that use racist imagery like mascots to depict indigenous people.
“I hope that our people realize that it’s not up to white people to determine what is racist or derogatory toward Native Americans,” said Soto, a member of the Cocopah tribe and leader within the Indiana and Kentucky chapter of the American Indian Movement.
“They (the investigators of the Covington Catholic incident) need to ask a Native American. And there are plenty of us living here,” Soto added.
Greater Cincinnati Investigation did not immediately respond to a question about whether the company interviewed any Native Americans before concluding its report.
Soto said the local American Indian Movement chapter has called for a public apology addressed to the Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, and for all Covington Catholic staff who were at the Mall in Washington, D.C., during the incident to be fired.
He also said the school should implement new curriculum about Native American history.
“I saw young men mocking and disrespecting an elder,” Soto said, “and it made me sad to think about how much work we have to do locally in order for our Native Americans to be recognized as actual human beings.”
He added he invited Diocese of Covington officials to a community meeting on Feb. 3, but Soto said they didn’t attend.
Multiple videos of Covington Catholic students interacting with Phillips and the Black Hebrew Israelites went viral in last month after the national March for Life in Washington on Jan. 18 The investigation breaks down the videos and highlights interviews with parents and students who were present at the incident.
“The immediate world-wide reaction to the initial video led almost everyone to believe that our students had initiated the incident and the perception of those few minutes of video became reality,” Foys said in the letter to parents. “In truth, taking everything into account, our students were placed in a situation that was at once bizarre and even threatening.”
Foys said the reaction of the students was expected and “one might even say laudatory.”
More than 40 students were interviewed, as well as some of the 16 chaperones who went to D.C.
Nick Sandmann, a Covington Catholic student featured in a video, and Phillips, the Native American man who approaches the crowd of students, were not interviewed in the investigation.
“We have nothing more to add,” a statement to local media said.
Here’s what the investigation found:
- No evidence was found that students performed a “Build the Wall” chant or made racist remarks to the Black Hebrew Israelites or Phillips.
- Most of the students felt like (Phillips) was coming into their group to join in with the students’ cheers, investigators said. None of the students said they felt threatened by Phillips and many stated they were “confused.”
- Video shows that some students performed a “tomahawk chop” to the beat of Phillips’ drumming and some joined in with his chant.
- Nine chaperones reported being present at the Lincoln Memorial when the main interactions took place. Investigators said video confirms at least five chaperones were present.
- Chaperones said they didn’t feel that students were in danger or threatened.
- In regard to the “It’s not rape if you enjoy it” video, investigators said the man in the video was not a Covington Catholic student.
- In regard to the 7-second video of two students making comments to two women, investigators said they could not determine whether the students were from Covington Catholic.