Football, fear and facts

Rumors surrounding rocks thrown at school bus in Clark Fork exemplify the damage speculation can do

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

On Friday, Sept. 11, an unidentified projectile hit the Lakeside High School football team’s bus as the team departed Clark Fork. It broke through two windows as the bus was just about to exit town after winning a football game, and no one was seriously injured. 

The Bonner County Sheriff’s Office investigated alongside the FBI, and announced Sept. 14 that two juveniles had confessed to throwing rocks at the bus. Motives are not yet clear, and felony charges are being sought.

School administrators from Plummer — where Lakeside High School is located — released a statement about the incident on Facebook Saturday morning, two days before the announcement about the confessions. As a CFHS alumna and current volleyball coach for the school, my heart dropped into my stomach when I read it. I shared the news along with a statement that I was angry, embarrassed and sad.

But over the two days that transpired before any evidence came to light, the irresponsibility of some people — most of them complete strangers, detached from the Clark Fork and Plummer communities — came to light as rumors began to spread. Soon, these baseless rumors were being spread as fact, and the danger of speculation reared its ugly head.

When the story hit Twitter, I saw how quickly the lines blurred between news and speculation. People were quick to throw around the words “racists,” “sore losers” and “ongoing hate.” All too quickly, that a bus had been struck by an unknown object — breaking windows and scattering glass on the teenagers within — turned into a story about Native American students being shot at in white supremicist hicksville. When I attempted to steer people back on track, I was repeatedly admonished for being defensive and/or, simply, wrong.

Don’t get me wrong — I can see why this issue of race might be brought up in relation to this incident. As Idaho Education News pointed out, the student population of Lakeside High School is about 60% Indigenous, while Clark Fork High School’s population is roughly 90% white. In addition, North Idaho is no stranger to white supremicist ideas and incidents.

Like many, I have used the sensitive climate surrounding racism in 2020 as a learning opportunity. I am aware of my upbringing in a very white part of the world and the biases that come with that upbringing. I am striving to be more understanding of how my worldview might be influenced by these circumstances, and working to identify, correct and learn from my blindspots each time I’m confronted with a difficult situation involving race. I do not deny my ignorance — I embrace it as a chance to grow.

But there is one area in which I’m not ignorant: the power of story.

I have a university degree in how words make people think and feel — rhetorical analysis — and a minor in journalism. I use this education every day as I build fair and informative narratives. Where I begin is where every good journalist begins: the facts. 

During the Twitter storm, my very professional integrity even came into question. One user accused me of being a “whataboutism” journalist, while yet another urged me to step back and try to be “objective.” I understand my implied bias by being a part of the Clark Fork community, but to claim I’m being unobjective by waiting for absolutely any scrap of evidence? That logic is beyond me.

When speculation begins to seep into the narrative, it’s like a messy game of telephone — where do the facts end, and the theories begin? When those theories immediately jump to a hate crime — when in fact, all we knew directly following the incident was that an unidentified projectile shattered two bus windows — the only thing that can come of it is anger. If it does turn out that racism was the motive, there will be plenty of time to be justifiably angry. In the meantime, it’s important that we give thanks that no one was seriously hurt and consider how we, as a broader community, can mitigate such irresponsible, dangerous incidents in the first place.

I will not deny the sometime-animosity between towns and schools that have competed against one another in sports for decades — but that same tension can be found between Clark Fork and Mullan, or Wallace. However, there also exists mutual respect and understanding. We are rural communities, above all else. We all want what is best for our kids.

When a Lakeside athlete died last year, the Clark Fork football team attended his funeral. The gesture was welcomed, and appreciated. The narrative of racial hate and competitive rage that’s come to the surface following the bus incident reduces the complexity of human relationships down to something flashy, fearful and aggrieved — all without any evidence to back up that narrative.

Accusations directed at an entire town without any evidence are irresponsible, and unchecked sensationalism made this already horrifying incident worse.

As I promised on Twitter over the weekend, I was one of the first to share that the culprits had been taken into custody. If those juveniles’ intentions were racist, I will do the same. 

I am not in the business of shielding my community from hard truths — I’m in the business of finding, simply, the truth.

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