SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Deciding if an incident has racial overtones isn’t always crystal clear, even with video evidence. By now, you’ve probably heard about a brawl at a Krispy Kreme and Andy’s Frozen Custard in Springfield in July. Two groups of young people fighting: one white, the other black. And, at least one man was badly hurt. Videos of the incident were posted online.  It shows the chaos, but does it reveal the truth?

As part of our Courageous Conversations series “Together We Heal,” KOLR 10’s David Chasanov looked into the influence of social media.

When the fight went viral, commenters were outraged. One alleged witness claims the group of white people were “waving confederate flags in their face.”

“[My buddy] said ‘if you ask me to take the flag down, I will gladly take the flag down,” Luke Helt, a 19 year old whose truck group was involved in the fight, said. “They said ‘no, we’re not asking you, you’re going to take it down, or we’re going to beat your (expletive) and take the flag down.”

Helt says he scheduled a meet-up for his group, the 417 Kings, that night. Helt says he didn’t throw a punch, and he tried breaking people up instead. 

Another Facebook commenter claims the white people “were yelling racial slurs.”

“No racial slurs were said,” Helt said. “Nothing. It was strictly about just being asked to do something. It just came down to the fact of nobody cared, and pride over common sense really. The only people that had said anything racial was the other group. When they were jumping [my friend] Dakota they said ‘stay down white boy. We’re going to kill you white boy.’ And, ‘cracker.’ Nobody that was with me at Andy’s said a single racial slur towards the other race that was there. I will vouch that, I’ve got people that will vouch that, people who were there will even vouch that.”

Another Facebook account claims the white people “pulled a gun on them.”

“Nobody from my side of the group had any guns on them,” Helt said. “Most of them weren’t even old enough to buy a gun.”

There are multiple sides to every story. Images of the fight blew up on social media, but now, only one video remains. Drury professor Jonathan Groves says this gives people a limited perspective.

“If you don’t know the background of what’s going on in that video, if you don’t know how it started, you’re only watching the bookends that they chose to show you,” Groves said. “And your framing is basically what we can see through the cell phone. So, we don’t know what led up to the fight.”

Missouri politician Saundra McDowell shared a 80-second video of the incident. In McDowell’s post, she says in part, “Violence. Mob rule. Corruption. Communism. Soros. What do all these things have in common. They are all here in Missouri and are coming to an area near you!!”

“We see the narrative as it was established by the person on the Facebook post,” Groves said. “So, they’re saying ‘well here’s the way that I understand this, and here’s a video to support my frustration with this.”

The Springfield Police Department has yet to charge anyone involved in the incident, as it is still under investigation.

Groves compares this situation to a 2019 viral encounter between a group of teens and Native Americans at the Lincoln Memorial.

“In order to make sense out of that event, you really needed to watch all perspectives in all videos to understand the entire context of what was happening,” Groves said. “And, the problem with a lot of these viral social media videos is that our perspective is limited. We’re limited to the cell phone that is filming the event.”

He says even though some posts help raise awareness, social media users should think before sharing.

“We have an obligation to understand the entire context of what’s happening,” Groves said. “Unfortunately, social media makes it really easy to just hit ‘share.’ You can have videos and photographs that are improperly framed, or they can be manipulated. There are deep fakes.”

An unedited video can help law enforcement.

“It can even help clear a suspect,” Greene County deputy Jason Winston said. “I would advise if you have a video you feel it’s of investigative value, contact the local law enforcement that was involved. If you feel the need to record it, by all means, record it.   We have the right to audio and visually record things that we see and experience.”

Jonathan Groves was quick to point out social media didn’t create racial strife – that’s been around for decades. But, he says, it can certainly bring injustices to light. Or, in some cases, make them seem like something they’re not.