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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Rebels Without a Cause: Students, and Confederate Flags

 Jacob Green

In Goodyear, Arizona, Jacob Green, an 11th grader at Millennium High School, got into a fight at school. As a result. he and the other boy were suspended for five days. Green claims the fight occurred because the other student accosted him about a Confederate flag Green has displayed on his truck for the past six months.

(Nicole Garcia. "Student Banned From Flying Confederate Flag at Millennium High School." November 21, 2013)

"I've done nothing wrong. I've flown a flag on my truck.. somebody fought me because of it. I didn't fight him. I was walking around like a normal person. He confronted me, he hit me first.. I was defending myself," explained Green.

The school sees the flag as more potential trouble creating an environment that is disruptive. In an email to parents following the incident, school officials explained that Jason was prohibited from bringing the flag on campus.

"Open display -- bringing it in -- it has been proven to be patently offensive to certain groups and the courts recognize that," said Agua Fria Unified School District Superintendent
The school district says it can limit students' rights while they're here on campus, especially when it comes to safety of the students and past court cases about this same subject -- the Confederate flag on school campuses, backs that up.

Yet, Jacob Green remains defiant. He claims: "I'm not gonna take the flag off my truck for somebody telling me to do it. I believe in independence. That's something I want to do independently."

Green also said he has researched the history of the Confederate flag and doesn't find it offensive.

"Well, the flag means basically more independence, less government. It didn't mean racism, it didn't mean slavery, it didn't mean any of that. It basically meant what they were fighting for was their right to be independent and not have the government control them... Basically, they (the school district) are taking away my First Amendment right of freedom of speech," he said.

Jacob's parents are upset with the school district and also believe he has a right to fly the Confederate flag at school. They also believe Jacob was attacked by the other student and are calling it a hate crime and are considering filing a police report.

Symbols like the Confederate flag and the Nazi swastika are potent reminders of injustice and evil. High school students like Jacob Green must be mindful of the negative connotations inherent in these emblems. Much more than generally inoffensive designs, the symbols possess a damnable history, and the display of these symbols rankle the emotions of many even today, decades past their distinct political popularity.

 Jacob Green's Display

Who Is At Fault?

1. Jacob Green

For Green to fight the angry student, he must have just cause. I just don't see that qualification met here. He could have walked away and informed administrators about the purported harassment. As the peaceful, non-racist student he claims to be, Green should have chosen a better action than using his fists. A mutual agreement to fight required the suspension of both students.

Also, I am skeptical that a junior in an Arizona high school is oblivious to the negative associations of a Confederate flag. If Green did his research, as he said he did, he must have discovered a vast history of problems associated with promoting the flag and all it symbolizes. The fact that Green claims the flag "didn't mean racism or slavery" shows that he is either a poor scholar with slanted, insufficient support or a con artist. If he is a liar and he knew his flag could disrupt the school, then he is doubly at fault -- at fault for (1) his brazen display, and (2) his boldface deceit.

Jacob Green may not be a racist. He claims not to be. Yet, he still brazenly upholds his right to display a questionable symbol in a public school, a symbol that could ignite terrible violence in his own community. By all indications, Jacob is a resourceful, decent student.

In my view, his fault in this matter resides in ignorance. He is not dumb, but he is ignorant of the impact of his stubborn will. Jacob is not alone in his misunderstanding by any means. I am sure many of his classmates remain unaware and uninformed about the scope of what appears to him to be "his rights." With time, humility may take hold and serve Jacob well.

2. The Parents of Jacob Green

I don't know Jacob's parents; however, I believe they knew he was displaying the Confederate flag on school grounds. To allow him to do so is bad enough, but to continue to support the juvenile's decision to fly the flag at school is asking for trouble -- even more trouble than has been generated in a student fight.

Unfortunately, Jacob's actions coupled with his parents lack of concern cost both Jacob and his legal guardians. His parent's convenient cry of "Our boy is victim of a hate crime!" is shameful because they failed to stop his potentially offensive behavior. He could have caused countless hate crimes at Millennium High with his thoughtless actions. The parental excuses = the cliche "the pot calls the kettle black."

In this case, I do not believe that Jacob Green decided to fly the Confederate flag on his pickup truck because he thought this action would represent some positive connotation. At the least, his parents should have talked with him about why he chose to display a symbol so closely associated with racism, and they should have informed him about other people's adverse associations with this grim symbol. It is paramount to have a student like Jacob understand that in an effort to guard equality, public schools have become uber-sensitive to racism.

Instead, in the aftermath of Jacob's actions, his parents now choose to grab the First Amendment and abuse its intentions in an act of revenge. True, the First Amendment does protect personal independence, yet that right does not extend to infringing upon the rights of others -- in particular, interfering with the sensitivity that must be afforded to all students in a public institution.

3. The Student Who Opposed Jacob Green

First of all, the display of a Confederate flag is not just reason for a fight on a high school campus. The unnamed student who allegedly attacked Green deserved to be suspended. This young man is definitely guilty of creating "a disruptive environment." This is the reason he was justly suspended. Although he may not like the flag or Jacob Green, the perpetrator of the physical confrontation is wrong for deciding to confront Green and eventually fight him.

Tolerance is one of the most important virtues American high school must enforce. Students must demonstrate the capacity for respecting the beliefs or practices of others. Even though I feel Jacob Green was at fault for bringing his flag onto campus, I also fault his attacker for the attacker's lack of tolerance and reasonable restraint.

Although it is evident that he was outraged, this young man had many options for voicing his disapproval of seeing a Confederate flag prominently displayed at his school. Almost any serious conversation with an adult at school probably would have resulted in action against Green and negated a physical reaction. A fight normally escalates negativity. This student made a wrong, aggressive decision to fight Jacob.

4. The Personnel of Millennium High

After viewing a photo of Green's display of the Confederate flag, I believe teachers and administrators at Millennium High must have known about the presentation of the symbol. If it is true that Green had displayed the flag on his truck for six months before the altercation and during this time school officials remained indifferent to the symbol, something is wrong with school security and sensible monitoring of school grounds. No educational institution can safely operate while wearing "blinders." Were school personnel aware and insensitive? It certainly opens speculation about a more serious racist attitude residing at Millennium High.

And, educational politics can be deceiving -- especially "after the fact." The school claims zero tolerance for "bringing in" any object of potential disruption, yet they evidently ignored the openly displayed symbol on school grounds for six months. The student parking lot can be a breeding ground for trouble -- fights, drug deals, vehicular accidents, weapons transfers, other contraband. I hate to hear poor excuses for the lack of necessary protection when needed apologies should be resonating in the air.

I firmly believe a vigilant staff and an alert administration would have certainly noticed a controversial Confederate flag flying at full mast in one of their parking areas. Who can say Millennium personnel adequately fulfilled their duty to students and their parents? I cannot. I understand that school employees cannot prevent all acts of violence; however, I think they could have done so in this case. The flag flew far too long: disruption was impending. Thank God the consequences were not worse.

5. The Student Body of Millennium High

Confrontations and brewing fights in a high school normally become evident long before they occur. The student body becomes abuzz with information and rumor about potential problems. Many times news about simple disputes run their course through the student body, and classmates serve to help solve dilemmas before they escalate into regretful actions. No doubt the students of Millennium High knew about Green and his flag, and they also knew about those who took offense to the symbol like the boy who confronted Green. Their student body is a very influential social circle.

So, to a lesser extent, I believe the student body failed: they did so by failing to report the escalation to administration or by failing to resolve it with conversation -- conversation within their various social groups and conversation with their parents. Proactive communicative response would have likely prevailed to stop trouble before intensified into national headlines.

When Will We Ever Learn?

The state flag of Mississippi was adopted April 23, 1894. According to Civil War historian and native Southerner Shelby Foote, the flag traditionally represented the South's resistance to Northern political dominance; it became racially charged during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, when fighting against desegregation suddenly became the focal point of that resistance.

In 2000, the Supreme Court of Mississippi ruled that state legislation in 1906 had repealed the adoption of the state flag in 1894, so what was considered to be the official state flag was only so through custom and usage.

Governor Ronnie Musgrove appointed an independent commission which developed a new proposed design, and on April 17, 2001, a non-binding state referendum to change the flag was put before Mississippi voters. The proposal would have replaced the Confederate battle flag with a blue canton with 20 stars. This is the proposed flag:

The new flag was soundly defeated in a vote of 64% (488,630 votes) to 36% (267,812) and the old flag was retained.

My aching head! Arizona and Mississippi and controversy and history. Are symbols free and open for interpretation? Of course. Do these symbols speak of different connotative meanings? Undoubtedly. Yet, do symbols also hold powers within themselves to unleash definite emotions? I think so. I believe people should respect the fact that negativity is portrayed in some of our most common designs. Yet, I still wonder if all Americans are sensitive enough to care. Maybe the Greens would find Mississippi more to their liking.

Consider these other symbols and your response to them on a banner in a public arena.

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