Good can come from bad when the behavior is addressed with clarity, speed and resolve.
While objective observers can agree that Sturgis, S.D., Brown High School students made poor decisions when they spray-painted “Go back to the Rez” on a car being smashed with sledgehammers and then posted a photo of the misdeed on social media with a profanity preceding Pine Ridge, it’s another thing to confront it in the public eye.
The spectacle came to the attention of school and city officials on the Thursday before homecoming and Friday’s football game between Sturgis and Pine Ridge — from the reservation. The students involved were bashing a donated vehicle as part of the week’s unofficial festivities.
Since the school no longer sanctions the activity and it was held on private property, community leaders had wiggle room and could have dismissed it as simply a few kids acting badly. It happens, right?
But they didn’t waffle, wall up or lash out at reporters who called for a reaction to an incident that merited coverage after it ignited the explosive topic of race and relations with Native Americans.
Instead, they sent a clear and forceful message that the behavior was unacceptable and wouldn't be tolerated.
"This is not what western South Dakota or Sturgis is about,“ Superintendent Don Kirkegaard told the Journal. "I can’t defend those actions, but I can try my best to make sure they never happen again.”
“Our community does not treat people this way,” Sturgis Mayor Mark Carstensen added.
Throughout the day words were converted into action with the school board eventually voting 8-0 to cancel homecoming — no parade, no football game and no dance. The vast majority of students and their families would pay a heavy price for the actions of a few.
Those who thought the punishment too severe and sweeping and thus unfair are not seeing the bigger picture that Kirkegaard addressed — serious offenses can have serious and wide-ranging consequences. This is especially the case now when even the slightest indiscretion can go viral and ruin one’s reputation. More importantly, however, America is changing and for the better. It is no longer the 18th, 19th or even 20th century. No one should be disparaged because of their race, nationality, gender or beliefs.
So, instead of memories of marching in a parade, dancing in prom attire or playing in a big game, Sturgis Brown students will have to be satisfied with a life lesson. Even if the car-smashing was just a display of the normal hubris of youth, those actions were wrong, offensive and hurt others who did them no harm.
It certainly had to be a gut-wrenching decision to cancel homecoming for the superintendent and school board. Nobody wants to deny students their homecoming. It would have been easier — in the short term, at least — to move into damage-control mode, which happens far too often when self-preserving elected and public officials are confronted with issues they hope just go away.
But the school district's leadership didn't choose the route too often taken. Instead, they did what was best for the students in the long run by making clear that racist remarks won't be tolerated. It was the right thing to do.
-- Rapid City (S.D.) Journal