Students arrive at Covington Catholic High School as classes resume following a closing due to security concerns the previous day, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, in Park Hills, Ky. Local police authorities controlled access to the property at entrances and exits. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Catholic student says he didn't disrespect Native American

January 23, 2019 - 10:41 am

PARK HILLS, Ky. (AP) — A Catholic high school student whose close encounter with a Native American activist and a black religious sect was captured on video in Washington, D.C. says he has nothing to apologize for.

Nick Sandmann told NBC's "Today" show on Wednesday that he had every right to be there, as did the others who gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial. He said he wasn't disrespectful and was trying to stay calm under the circumstances.

Videos posted of Sandmann and his classmates wearing "Make America Great Again" hats and facing off against Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips have sparked widespread criticism. But the various sides say they've been misunderstood and that snippets of video were taken out of context.

Many saw the white teenagers, who had traveled to Washington for an anti-abortion rally, appearing to mock the Native Americans. Others interpreted Phillips' drumming and singing as a hostile act. Phillips has since explained that he was trying to intervene between the boys and a group of black street preachers who were shouting racist insults at both the Native Americans and the white kids.

Sandmann said he definitely felt threatened by the black men, who were calling them things like "incest kids" and "bigots."

"In hindsight, I wish we'd just found another spot to wait for our buses, but at the time, being positive seemed better than letting them slander us with all of these things."

Sandmann said he isn't racist and for that matter, neither are his classmates.

"We're a Catholic school and it's not tolerated. They don't tolerate racism, and none of my classmates are racist people."

Both Sandmann and Phillips have since said they were trying to keep the peace in a volatile situation. Phillips has since offered to visit the school and lead a dialogue about cultural understanding. Sandmann said he'd like to speak with him as well.

"I was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips. I respect him. I'd like to talk to him. In hindsight, I wish we could've walked away and avoided the whole thing, but I can't say that I'm sorry for listening to him and standing there."

The boys' school reopened Wednesday under extra security measures after officials closed the campus Tuesday as a precaution.

A letter to parents sent by school officials said that if they don't feel comfortable sending their sons back to class, they will "understand this viewpoint during this difficult time period."

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