Boy, can grandstanding backfire. One high school student at Park Hill South High School hopefully learned that lesson last week after seeking out some media attention over … you guessed it, the Confederate flag. This issue continues to pop up throughout the country in wake of the tragic death of black parishioners at a historically black church in South Carolina. The apparently racially motivated crime reignited a simmering debate on whether displaying the Stars and Bars was a right of freedom of speech.
There have been no winners and only a lot of anger on both sides of the argument. This showed up in Kansas City news last week with an exclusive report from KCTV 5, the local CBS affiliate.
Kasey Ayres, a student at Park Hill South, appeared on camera to defend the actions of his group of friends. Multiple students displayed Confederate flags on their trucks that were parked at the school. According to him, Kyle Becker — one of his friends — was suspended over the display, while the others were not.
A Park Hill South administrator told The Citizen that the report that student was suspended for displaying the Confederate flag was untrue but could not verify if the student was suspended due to school policies.
According to the KCTV report, high school principal Dale Longenecker backed up its policies against displaying symbols of hate, discrimination or drug use. Exactly who decides what constitutes one of those symbols probably isn’t as clear.
Students must sign a contract to abide by the rules and are therefore subject to punishment, regardless of freedom of speech.
Much like how you can say whatever you want but can still be punished by your employer if you cross a line, the freedom of speech has limitations. You certainly won’t be punished in a court of law, but you can be in the court of public opinion.
Ayres made a few mistakes in his pleas for understanding.
First, he apparently forgot that he had posted an image to his Facebook containing a racial slur while claiming the flag’s display is about heritage and not hate. Whoopsadoodle. He also referred to his “colored friends” that he treats equally, which I’m not sure is the best choice of words when addressing this controversy.
Ayres said his friends didn’t mean any harm. “I feel like everybody should have equal rights,” he told KCTV5 on camera with a Confederate flag in the back of his truck.
I have no idea what to even say about the issue at this point, but the news continues to find us. First, we had to tackle the issue at the Platte County Fair, and barely a month later its back in a county school district. The whole news report, an exclusive to KCTV, just seemed to so bizarre. The interview was on the side of the road with plenty of footage of the flags in questions on the pickups in question, but the reporter had done enough research to possibly embarrass Ayres about his misuse of the internet meme.
One thing seems obvious: if you aren’t seeking attention with your display, you’re going to get it. If you are trying to create a stir, you will create a stir.
Really, I think it is that simple.
Regardless of if you are trying to honor a perceived heritage or history or looking to defend your right to potentially offend people, the statement no longer appears worth the consequence. You will be placed into a spotlight and be judged.
Is your belief in a flag that hasn’t been relevant since the 1800s really worth the effort and scrutiny?
I suppose that’s up to each individual and how much it truly means to them. Some might see the need to continue to keep the fight up and carry on a tradition that mostly exists in the minority of this country. If that’s your belief, just be prepared to deal with the consequences.
Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.