Levi Pettit, one of the Oklahoma University students and Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members seen in a video that has gone viral making racist chants, apologized publicly for his actions for the first time Wednesday. The 20-year-old Pettit and the other SAE member who has been identified, Parker Rice, both withdrew from the university. Rice previously apologized in a written statement.
Pettit, Rice and other members of the fraternity are seen singing, “there will never be a n***er SAE,” in the video, filmed on a bus en route to a party. The chant, which has drawn disgust worldwide and led to the shutdown of the fraternity’s University of Oklahoma chapter, continues “you can hang them from a tree, but they’ll never sign with me.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. He Apologized Publicly After Meeting With Black Civic Leaders
Levi Pettit spoke publicly for the first time since the video was released in early March, apologizing for his actions and vowing to be a leader against racism.
“My words, at best, were disgusting, and these words should never be repeated under any circumstance,” Pettit said during the March 25 press conference. He was expelled from the university March 10, days after the video was made public.
Pettit said he didn’t speak sooner because of he has “had a mix of pain, shame, sorrow and fear of the consequences of my actions. I did not want to apologize and to the press and the entire country first until I came here to apologize to the community most impacted.”
Pettit met with local members of the black community, including politicians, at the Fairview Missionary Baptist Church before the press conference to apologize to them.
He said he would do “absolutely anything to take it back if I could. To hear the words that I’m a racist or a bigot may seem logical after seeing my face and hearing me participate in a mindlessly sickening chant. However what what you heard and saw in that video is not who I really am. It’s not who I was raised to be, and it’s not who I think of myself to be.”
As parents of Levi, we love him and care for him deeply. He made a horrible mistake, and will live with the consequences forever. However, we also know the depth of our son’s character. He is a good boy, but what we saw in those videos is disgusting. While it may be difficult for those who only know Levi from the video to understand, we know his heart, and he is not a racist. We raised him to be loving and inclusive and we all remain surrounded by a diverse, close-knit group of friends.
We were as shocked and saddened by this news as anyone. Of course, we are sad for our son – but more importantly, we apologize to the community he has hurt. We would also like to apologize to the – entire African American community, University of Oklahoma student body and administration. Our family has the responsibility to apologize, and also to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Our words will only go so far – as a family, we commit to following our words with deeds.
On the website, “Friends & Family of Levi Pettit,” his parents also thanked their friends and family for the “kind comments and prayers,” which they said are “very comforting in this difficult time.” They also asked “that the media and public please respect our family’s privacy as we come together to heal and determine next steps.”
2. Black Civic Leaders Say They Accepted His Apology
Pettit met with Oklahoma state Sen. Anastasia Pittman, the leader of the legislature’s Black Caucus, and other black politicians and leaders. They said during a press conference they don’t condone what he did, but accept his apology and forgive him.
3. Pettit Was One of the Leaders of the Chant
Pettit was seen in a video, with what appears to be a microphone in front of his face, standing up and leading the chant. He said Wednesday, “with no question my words on that bus were disgusting. I’m also upset and embarrassed that I failed to step up and stop the chant.”
He would not get into what happened on the bus or where he learned the chant.
The other leader of the chant, Parker Rice, has apologized for the incident in a statement to the Dallas Morning News that said in part:
I know everyone wants to know why or how this happened. I admit it likely was fueled by alcohol consumed at the house before the bus trip, but that’s not an excuse. Yes, the song was taught to us, but that too doesn’t work as an explanation. It’s more important to acknowledge what I did and what I didn’t do. I didn’t say no. …. My goal for the long-term is to be a man who has the heart and the courage to reject racism wherever I see or experience it in the future
4. Black Leaders Said There Needs to be More Education About African-American History
During the press conference, the black civic leaders stressed that this is an example that all students must be taught the history and struggle of African Americans, so that they can better understand why the words are harmful.
5. Many People on Twitter Reacted Negatively Toward Pettit’s Press Conference
While local black leaders accepted Pettit’s apology, several people on Twitter did not think it was enough, or said it didn’t seem genuine.