Carlton "Inkflow" Johnson

The news said that a white Catholic student committed an atrocious racist offense on Jan. 18 against American Indian Nathan Phillips. The boy smirked and laughed right up in Phillips’ face, and his red-hat-wearing classmates chanted slogans. The public scolded and condemned the boy. He later stated that he was fearful and, out of respect, had not wanted to offend Phillips. 

But the footage of the smirk was enough to seal the perceived truth. Witnesses stood everywhere with smart phones and cameras. There was nothing else to say. I call this being STEEL: Smarter Than Everyone Else Living. 

 Your truth. My truth. The real truth is harmful biases. Getting the facts straight is important, as we all learned that day at the March for Life and Indigenous Peoples March. The presence of curious bystanders and Black Israelites added to the confusion of the day. 

I accompanied a photographer and Street Sense Media volunteer to the marches. On the metro, we met and talked to a woman leading a group of indigenous women to the march. She said that she and her group had already encountered some harassment from counter-protestors. 

I wished then that the group had asked the DC Peacekeepers team to be present. As a member of that team, we are trained to perform bystander interventions. The bottom line is to prevent the use of violence and to diffuse potential and occurring crisis. If I’d been there with the Covington Catholic boys, I might have tried to converse with the young man peacefully. 

 The antagonizing groups were the MAGA-hat-wearing Covington Catholic high school students and the Black Hebrews, well known by those of us who frequent the Gallery Place metro station. They are hateful—provoking, instigating, and verbally targeting pedestrians in their purview. They have weaponized words.

Phillips took a peaceful action to diffuse the potential violence by playing his drum and chanting. The Catholic student also did not engage in violence, but the smirk and laughing were provoking, not diffusing.  

All parties acted and reacted to their own truth about what happened. The white student and his classmates became privileged racist harassers; Phillips was a provoker and not a peacemaker; and the Black Hebrews, the root culprits and instigators of the entire crisis, got away without blame. 

We all have implicit biases, beliefs, rituals and practices. We all can suffer the hypnotic trance of obedience to groupthink, without thinking: Again, this is what I call STEEL. 

STEEL is dangerous and we must practice deterrence in the form of peaceful words and peaceful actions. Participants must take the time to check the facts and get it right. We are all innocent until proven guilty.