Students refuse to say Pledge of Allegiance due to Ferguson events

Aparna Verma

Students refuse to cite the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag.

By Aparna Verma, Catonsville HS, Catonsville, Md.

“The Pledge of Allegiance says ‘liberty and justice for all,’ but that doesn’t exist in the America I live in. The proof is the jury failing to indict Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.”

Senior Alex Armbruster made it clear that the morning announcements crew would not say the pledge the morning after a grand jury refused to indict Darren Wilson, a 28 year-old police officer, in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on Nov. 24. The case has set off nationwide protests — both violent and peaceful.

“In light of the tragic events regarding the death of Michael Brown and last night’s grand jury decision, we will not be saying the Pledge of Allegiance this morning,” Armbruster said to start off the morning announcements rather than recite the expected pledge. Instead, he asked for a 30-second moment of silence to honor the memory of all those lives lost to police brutality.

While the rest of the announcements crew supported Armbruster’s decision, they did not have administrative approval to skip the pledge or conduct a moment of silence.

“As a school, we greatly respect [a student’s] opinion, but you cannot present it in a way that disrupts the learning environment,” Eric Eiswert, assistant principal and supervisor of the morning announcement crew, explained.

As a school, we greatly respect [a student’s] opinion, but you cannot present it in a way that disrupts the learning environment.”

— Eric Eiswert, assistant principal

The Baltimore County Public School student handbook states that students have the right not to participate in patriotic acts, however they must “not interfere with the rights of other students to participate in such exercises.”

Eiswert was not present at CHS on the day that the controversial announcement was made, and was not pre-warned by the crew about the announcement.

After the morning announcements finished and the administration became aware of the group’s action, principal William Heiser interrupted the start of second period with an apology for the absence of the pledge during the announcements. He then recited the Pledge of Allegiance himself over the intercom.

Armbruster was furious over the apology which he saw to be for the moment of silence.

“I believe that it was offensive that the administration apologized for a moment of silence for an innocent death,” he stated.

Due to the CHS controversial morning announcement, a heated argument started in classrooms and social media, and spread throughout the student body concerning Ferguson events and the morning announcements.

After seeing all the positive feedback, I don’t regret a thing. I’m so glad for everything that happened.”

— Alex Armbruster, senior announcer

“The silence had mixed reactions from students, staff members, and administration,” Dr. William Heiser said. “I wish that [the announcement crew] came and asked me first. That would have been a good way to approach it.”

Issues of racism and police brutality have been brought to the forefront. In fact, after school, the Black Awareness Club met to discuss the Ferguson verdict.

“Michael Brown’s theft for [cigars] does not validate his brutal murder and the four and a half hours his body lay there on the pavement,” senior Shane Murray explained.

Murray, who is a member of the Black Awareness Club, also argued that the Ferguson event has brought light to the racial issues that plague post-segregation America.

“Education is key. Once people realize, ‘Yeah, racism is a big deal,’ then what I fight for will be accepted,” he said.

Junior Malin Piermattei agreed.

“Black people still have limited justice because of continued racial profiling,” she said. “I believe that Wilson should have been indicted; however, as an American, I must respect the grand jury’s decision.”

Other students had opposing opinions, and expressed their disappointment towards the morning announcement crew.

“The fact that the morning announcement crew refused to recite the pledge was uncalled for,” junior Brad Holderfield said. “[This action] does not belong in a school setting.”

Holderfield states that he was personally attacked over social media for speaking out against the crew’s actions.

“Many used racism as an argument, saying that those who are complaining about the announcements are only whites, which isn’t true or fair to say,” he explained. “I think ‘Justice wasn’t served,’ is a ridiculous reason for not saying the pledge because the definition of justice is a self-captured one and based on your opinion.”

Junior Shaun Miller, an African American, shares Holderfield’s disagreement towards the actions of the morning announcements crew.

“The silence was a good gesture, but the crew should have still said the Pledge of Allegiance. They shouldn’t have taken that away,” he said.

Other students are torn.

“In my opinion, I feel as if the U.S. isn’t the land of the free and home of the brave, but we should still say the pledge,” senior and member of the morning announcement crew Erin Fraser said. “I did not say the Pledge yesterday, but today and for the rest of the year I will.”

Teachers have also contributed to the discussion and voiced their opinions on the matter.

“I think that the 30 seconds of silence was a great idea and conversation starter,” S.T.A.T. teacher Jo-Ellen O’Dell stated,“but withholding the pledge in reference to police brutality was inappropriate since it presented only one version of a complicated event.”

Others have offered a more patriotic viewpoint.

“The Pledge of Allegiance signifies the principles of our nation and those who died trying to protect it, so it is not optional to take it away,” World Languages teacher Frank Masel stated.

For some, the action offered an opportunity for discussion about matters often avoided.

“I thought it was daring, interesting, and provocative and added to the national conversation of the incidents that occurred in Ferguson,” social studies teacher Doug Albright, explained.

Students also agree that the crew’s action was understandable, even if they did not agree with it at a personal level.

“Although I don’t approve the crew taking away the pledge, I believe that they had good intentions that contributed to a meaningful conversation,” junior Brendan Maddox said.

The morning announcement crew expressed their gratitude towards students for their involvement in the Ferguson debate, and pointed out that any future protests should continue to be done in a peaceful manner.

“After seeing all the positive feedback, I don’t regret a thing. I’m so glad for everything that happened,” Armbruster said.

According to Armbruster, he was removed from the morning announcements crew, but he expressed his gratitude for having an amazing experience in the announcement crew, calling it “wonderful” and the “highlight of his day.”

To learn more about the Ferguson event and engage in open debate, students can attend the Black Awareness Club meeting held in Room 314 after school on Tuesdays.

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