Trump flags, con­tro­versy on high school cam­pus

Times Standard (Eureka) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Jack Tay­lor and Stella Wal­ston

Anger ex­ploded in the days fol­low­ing the con­tro­ver­sial ‘flag in­ci­dent’ on the Ar­cata High School cam­pus, rais­ing ques­tions over first amend­ment rights and po­lit­i­cal sym­bol­ism on pub­lic school cam­puses.

On Feb. 26, a group of stu­dents wore cloth­ing sup­port­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, and flew Trump flags and Amer­i­can flags off of their cars, in sup­port of what they called “Pa­tri­o­tism Day.”

Dur­ing nu­tri­tion break and lunch that day, the stu­dents drove two cars around the park­ing lot, each trail­ing large Amer­i­can flags or Trump flags.

As­sis­tant Prin­ci­pal Jim Monge stopped one car and spoke to the stu­dent driv­ing. Prin­ci­pal Dave Navarre also spoke to the stu­dents in­volved but did not speak on the record about what he said. Af­ter the in­ter­ac­tions, the stu­dents re­moved the flags from their cars af­ter back­lash from non-Trump sup­port­ers.

Many stu­dents on cam­pus took of­fense to the dis­play and were an­gered by what they thought the Trump sup­port­ers were try­ing to say.

On the same Wed­nes­day that the Trump group brought their flags and cloth­ing, the Black Stu­dent Union started to run as­sem­blies meant to ed­u­cate stu­dents on Black His­tory Month as well as mi­croag­gres­sions and ap­pro­pri­a­tion to­wards black peo­ple in so­ci­ety.

Some stu­dents as­sumed the Trump and Amer­i­can flags were in di­rect re­sponse to the as­sem­blies, which the Trump sup­port­ers de­nied.

“We mainly did it be­cause peo­ple were show­ing their sup­port for Bernie, and we wanted to show our sup­port (for the pres­i­dent) … we had no idea that the BSU thing was hap­pen­ing. The teach­ers were very bad at in­form­ing us with that in­for­ma­tion, and we would not have picked that day if we knew,” said Casey McA­tas­ney, one of the Trump sup­port­ers who wore cloth­ing sup­port­ing Trump.

The in­for­ma­tion was in the bulletin. How­ever, it was placed in the “fac­ulty” sec­tion, which some teach­ers do not read to their stu­dents.

Some stu­dents felt that it was not a co­in­ci­dence that “Pa­tri­o­tism Day” was held on the same day as the first of three BSU as­sem­blies.

“Im­me­di­ately I thought that they were do­ing it on pur­pose be­cause it was like the first time hav­ing a meet­ing for Black Stu­dent Union, so I thought they were do­ing it for (the) in­tent to get a re­ac­tion,” Ax­eri Ramirez, a ju­nior, said of their ac­tions.

So­cial me­dia ex­ploded with videos mock­ing and crit­i­ciz­ing the stu­dents who took part in pub­licly sup­port­ing Trump. One stu­dent called them “clowns” while oth­ers called them “racist.” Ju­nior Ri­ley Walsh, one of the stu­dents who drove one of the cars fly­ing a flag, claimed that he re­ceived some death threats and was told to kill him­self. When Monge stopped the car to speak to the driver, a stu­dent ripped a flag off Walsh’s car. At lunch, an­other stu­dent ripped a Trump flag off se­nior Ma­teo Vin­cent’s car.

Some stu­dents re­acted phys­i­cally to­wards the Trump sup­port­ers. A stu­dent threw Kool-Aid at the car of one of the stu­dents who at­tached a Trump flag and Amer­i­can flag to the back.

The events of Wed­nes­day were not con­tained to the Ar­cata High cam­pus. Mem­bers of the com­mu­nity heard that it was a “white supremacy” event, and one in­di­vid­ual called on peo­ple to come sup­port the BSU. Terry Uyeki called on peo­ple to “show sup­port to the African Amer­i­can stu­dents and the ob­ser­vance of Black His­tory Month,” in her email ad­dressed to “so­cial jus­tice war­riors”.

“We had var­i­ous re­ports that we were gonna have, es­sen­tially, ral­lies, on our cam­pus, in sup­port of var­i­ous causes,” Navarre stated.

Sev­eral com­mu­nity mem­bers did show up to the event, and were in­vited to stay as vis­i­tors of the assem­bly.

How­ever, the stu­dent Trump sup­port­ers did not mean to incite back­lash. Ac­cord­ing to mem­bers of the group, they picked the day be­cause they were cel­e­brat­ing the anniversar­y of the Fif­teenth Amend­ment and be­cause they were “feel­ing pa­tri­otic that day.”

“We were just sup­port­ing our coun­try. It wasn’t a protest,” McA­tas­ney stated. Their claimed in­tent was not to un­der­mine the BSU assem­bly, but to show sup­port for the pres­i­dent.

It was not per­ceived that way, though. For some stu­dents, es­pe­cially stu­dents of color, Trump, and by as­so­ci­a­tion his flag, rep­re­sents some­thing very dif­fer­ent than pa­tri­o­tism.

“I don’t think (sup­port for Trump) is a re­ally pos­i­tive thing to be spread­ing on cam­pus be­cause of what he stands for. He stands for racism, sex­ism, sex­ual as­sault, and also just like, his name can scare a lot of peo­ple who have im­mi­grated to Amer­ica,” ju­nior Bella VolzBrough­ton said.

Oth­ers echoed VolzBrough­ton’s sen­ti­ments.

“Amer­ica is not that great. There’s a lot of things we need to solve, and a lot we need to fix, so don’t even try that, and also it’s just kinda dis­re­spect­ful,” se­nior and pres­i­dent of BSU Nishyra Aaron-Williams said.

In an ar­ti­cle for Pep­per­box, Made­line “Henny” Las­siter-Chavar­ria and Ramirez ex­pressed that in see­ing sup­port for Trump, they see sup­port for racism and worry that it may cre­ate a sit­u­a­tion that en­dan­gers them. Since Trump’s election, there has been a sta­tis­ti­cal in­crease in hate crimes. Ac­cord­ing to a Poli­tifact anal­y­sis of fed­eral data, there was a 17% in­crease in hate crimes from 2016-2017, the year fol­low­ing Trump’s election.

The con­tro­versy sur­round­ing Trump para­pher­na­lia at schools is not iso­lated to Ar­cata High. A school in Fresno was sued af­ter not al­low­ing a stu­dent to wear a MAGA hat be­cause it would make oth­ers feel “un­safe.” In North Carolina, a cheer­lead­ing squad got placed on pro­ba­tion for dis­play­ing a Trump sign at a school event.

While stu­dents on a high school cam­pus have lim­ited rights, they do have the right to free speech as long as it is not “ob­scene, li­belous, likely to incite ma­te­rial dis­rup­tion or vi­o­la­tion of school rules, or is deemed a ‘true threat,’ ” ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union. Po­lit­i­cal free speech does not fall un­der any of these cat­e­gories un­less it con­tains fight­ing words, which the Trump-sup­port­ers were not voic­ing.

“Stu­dents have free speech just like any­body else, and the thing that schools have is that it can’t in­ter­fere with school ac­tiv­i­ties,” Monge ex­plained. He did not feel that school had been in­ter­rupted by “Pa­tri­o­tism Day.”

“(School) pretty much ran as nor­mal. We had a few flags, and then we didn’t,” Monge said.

With the events of last Wed­nes­day still fresh, how the cam­pus moves for­ward is up to ev­ery­one. Peo­ple in­volved with the day say that they are plan­ning on hav­ing more “Pa­tri­o­tism Days” in the fu­ture, but they also say they have learned from this one.

Se­nior Emma Frazzel said, “We know that some peo­ple got their feel­ings hurt, so maybe next time we won’t put our­selves out there as much. We know that peo­ple were like ‘that was too far’, so let’s take a step back, still show our sup­port, but maybe in other ways.”

For oth­ers on cam­pus, the event sim­ply rep­re­sented stu­dents tak­ing ac­tion on their rights.

“I think when (free speech) be­comes ag­gres­sive or like threat­en­ing then it’s not okay, but they didn’t say any­thing mean about any of the other can­di­dates,” Ju­dah Thomp­son said.

Izzy Knife summed up how she feels about not only po­lit­i­cal free speech but the is­sue at large.

“I know a lot of peo­ple gen­er­al­ize, so when they see the Trump flag, they think about racists and sex­ism and things Trump has said. but I feel like ev­ery­one should be judged in­di­vid­u­ally.”

Stella Wal­ston is the man­ag­ing editor and Jack Tay­lor is the opin­ion editor of The Pep­per­box, where this story was orig­i­nally pub­lished. Ad­di­tional re­search was done by re­search by Martina Ma­p­atis, Fiona Mur­phy, and Bai­ley Ives.

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