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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Emily Stoddard, of East Ridge High School, and Jordon Austin, of Red Bank High School lead a Monday march across the Walnut Street Bridge to Coolidge Park. High School students and others organized the protest after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the maltreatment of others by police and authorities.

Why is it that kids are smarter than most adults, especially about getting along for the future?

Take, for instance, this speech to blacks and black supporters last week by a local 17-year-old member of Chatt Students for Justice:

"As someone who is not African American, I would like to represent the non-black people standing before us right now and say I am sorry. I am sorry that the promise of equality was not given to you on Jan. 1, 1863, with the Emancipation Proclamation. I am sorry that it wasn't given to you on July 2, 1964, with the Civil Rights Act or even today, June 8, 2020, as we continue to mourn the countless African American lives lost due to police brutality," Siena Rodrigues said. "I am here to say that I see you, I hear you and I stand with you. Not just today or tomorrow or next week but until you do not live in fear."

The Signal Mountain Middle/High School student was really just getting warmed up.

"I am almost 18 years old, and I am privileged. I am privileged because I don't fear for myself when I go to a gas station, get pulled over, go out jogging or even sit in my very own house. ... I'm privileged to have a community that will accept me for who I am and listen to what I have to say," she said. "Yet who am I to come out and recognize my privilege and not do anything about it? Who am I to recognize these injustices, this inequality, this systematic racism ... only to not do something about it?"

Naturally, some of the adults charged with overseeing the education of Siena and thousands of other Hamilton County students — and one adult in particular who seeks a seat on the Board of Education — chose instead to politicize the students' action when hundreds of them joined to march across the Walnut Street Bridge for a demonstration in Coolidge Park. The protest was organized by students to speak out over the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis when a police officer held a knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.

Conservative school board candidate Tom Decosimo criticized the "the strident attitude" of the student protesters. He said the image of a clenched fist in the organizers' flier advertising the protest "screamed violence" and hate.

Never mind that on that flier, a banner with the words "Silent & Nonviolent" anchored the stylized fist.

In a Facebook post, Decosimo reposted the flier from outgoing school board member Kathy Lennon's post. Decosimo added this message: "Our current District 2 School Board member posted this on her Facebook page. I don't think any further comment necessary. I ask my opponent, who has received the full-throated endorsement of this member and served as her treasurer, what say you? Is this the strident attitude we want our students to adopt? Let's get our school board back into the hands of people with conservative values and traditional values!"

When Decosimo's post generated concern, even outrage, from some educators, he deleted it.

But he also should apologize.

He acknowledged later that he sees a black fist as hate and violence. Most of the rest of us see it as show of solidarity and the power of unity. Especially when combined with peaceful protest.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos saw it as that and as a human rights salute that recognized the oppression of black people in the United States when they raised black-gloved fists while the U.S. national anthem played as they received the bronze and gold medals for track in the 1968 summer Olympics. They were suspended from the U.S. Olympic team and ostracized, much as Colin Kaepernick has been since 2016, the year he began protesting police brutality and social injustice by taking a knee during the national anthem.

But even Donald Trump, just minutes before he was inaugurated in 2017, emerged from the Capitol Building, gave a thumbs-up, and then raised his right fist in the air.

Apparently raising a fist is all right if the fist is white.

Decosimo pushed back on some teachers who accused him of trying to "stifle" student voices.

"I think students will always need to speak out on what they believe. That's part of growing. That's part of finding your voice. That's part of leadership building. ... I want students who speak their mind as long as it's respectful, lawful and safe," he said, but added, "The symbol was something that I thought screamed violence. I don't want a clenched fist. I rejected that symbol of violence. I viewed it as a symbol of hate."

It's hard to understand how good intentions and concern — expressed completely peacefully — for our mistreated and even killed fellow human beings can be cast aside without a moment's thought, but we'll contort ourselves into vindictive and ridiculous outrage over gestures — even images of gestures.

No fist in the air or knee on the ground — no matter the color or background music — is a symbol that we don't love our country. On the contrary, it's a flashing neon sign that we do.

We love it so much so that we will peacefully and respectfully try to find and stir support and solidarity to make it better.

What's so wrong with that?

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