Two African-American brothers who play basketball for the Sheboygan Falls High School in Wisconsin were recently suspended from school after some parents complained that a goofy picture of them making "3-point" signs in the local paper "looked" gang related.
Now the community is in an uproar over the decision with the editor of The Sheboygan Falls News, which published the photo, coming to the defense of the players.
The paper, according to TMJ 4 took several photos of brothers Jordan, Jamal and Juwaun Jackson for a story chronicling their move to the school district. The paper decided to use a goofy picture that shows Sheyboygan Falls senior, Jordan Jackson, making the 3-point sign with his finger, but some parents complained to the school district that the brothers were making gang signs.
"I did it like every other kid does it when they make a three," said Jordan Jackson.
"When you make a three, everyone does this sign. You've probably seen LeBron James or someone do it. I did the three in the picture, and my little brother pointed at the camera," he said.
The Sheboygan Falls superintendent, however, did not buy that explanation and the school even asked the local police department to investigate the signs.
Jordan Jackson said he was told that the sign was indeed a gang sign and he was completely unaware of that connotation.
"I had no idea. They told us it meant blood," he said.
Other parents who spoke with TMJ 4 said they did not see a problem with the photo and were as clueless of the gang symbolism as the brothers.
"It wouldn't bug me. I wouldn't ever have thought it was a gang symbol," noted parent Brandie Ciske.
"I thought they were a bunch of kids just being kids, really," said Malisa Mireles.
As a result of the suspension the brothers will miss an important game against rival Plymouth High School on Friday.
On Thursday, Sheboygan Falls News editor Jeff Pederson explained in a lengthy Facebook post that there was no reason to punish the brothers because the police ruled that they had not committed a crime. He also confirmed that Jordan was indeed making a commonly used basketball gesture.
"The hand signs made by Jordan and Juwaun were perceived by some to be representative of signals used by the Los Angeles-based 'Bloods' street gang," said Pederson in the post. "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," he explained.
"According to Sheboygan Falls Police Chief Steven Riffel, the matter was investigated and the boys were questioned, with Jordan stating that the sign he was making was signaling a successfully made 3-point basketball shot, while Juwaun indicated he was simply gesturing at himself and the camera in a playful manner," Pederson continued.
"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," he added.
In a reaction to the story on Thursday, Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said the organization would be taking a look at 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," he said in a statement.
"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 [Friday's] game."