A Wisconsin school district said this week that it followed proper procedure when it suspended two African-American basketball players because they had made hand gestures that "looked like" gang signs.
On Jan. 1, the Sheboygan Falls News ran what they hoped would be a feel-good story about Jordan, Jamal and Juwaun Jackson moving to the district and playing basketball for Sheboygan Falls High School. The paper took several photos for the article, but decided to publish the "goofy" photo of the boys joking around in Falcons' basketball uniforms.
But the school suspended two of the brothers after story ran in the sports section of the paper because parents suspected that the boys were making gang-related hand signs in the photo. The school even had the police department investigate.
"I had no idea," Jordan Jackson told TMJ News. "They told us it meant blood."
"I did it like every other kid does it when they make a 3," he explained. "When you make a 3, everyone does this sign. You've probably seen LeBron James or someone do it. I did the 3 in the picture, and my little brother pointed at the camera."
District Superintendent Jean Born insisted to WHBL that the school followed the athletic code.
And Police Chief Steve Riffel said that he was "able to confirm that the sign was indeed a gang sign," but he acknowledged that the young men posed no threat to the community.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, Sheboygan Falls News Editor Jeff Pederson explained that the story had "veered wildly off the intended path."
"The sign made by Jordan Jackson (on the far left side of the photo) is also commonly used by NBA players, such as James Harden, Lebron James and Brandon Jennings, after making a 3-point shot," Pederson wrote. "The good intentions surrounding a positive article about high school student-athletes adjusting to a new school and contributing to an SFHS sports program has somehow taken an ugly turn."
"We are disappointed and saddened by the negative reaction and subsequent outcome, which has resulted in two high school basketball players being forced to miss a game against the team's biggest rival," he added. "In my 20 years in mainly small-town newspaper journalism, I have fielded plenty of complaints from readers. However, I have never seen anything published in a paper I have been a part of escalate to this very unfortunate and negative magnitude."
The ACLU of Wisconsin said in a statement on Thursday that it would also be investigating the case.
"It appears as if the Sheboygan Falls school district and police department are unprepared to respond to the increasing diversity in the schools in an appropriate and educationally sound manner," Executive Director Chris Ahmuty said. "The ACLU will be seeking information from the schools in order to assess their compliance with pupil non-discrimination rules. The ACLU asks the district to immediately make the brothers eligible to play in tomorrow’s game."
According to City-Data.com, Sheboygan Falls' population was 95 percent white as of 2009.