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11:19 am
Fri January 17, 2014

UPDATE: Wisconsin H.S. Overturns Athletes' Game Suspension for Reported Gang Signs

Photo that stirred controversy
Photo that stirred controversy
Credit Steve Ottmann/Sheboygan Falls News

The Sheboygan Falls School District administration has overturned the game suspension for two African American brothers on the high school basketball team, over what some called gang signs.

The pair were slated to be benched from Friday night's game, but will now play after a last-minute formal appeal hearing Friday afternoon.

The students found themselves at the center of controversy in this small, mostly white city when a few parents allegedly contacted school leaders, after seeing a photo of the boys in the Sheboygan Falls News. A police official then rendered an opinion that one of the hand gestures was a gang sign.

The Sheboygan Press reports:

Steve Riffel, the Sheboygan Falls police chief and director of public safety, said his department confirmed Jordan’s gesture is in fact used by an “organized gang.” He said The Bloods gang uses a similar gesture. Juwaun’s gesture, he said, didn’t appear to be a gang sign.

The photo accompanied a newspaper feature written by Falls News correspondent Steve Ottman about the two students and their other brother, all of whom play basketball for their school teams after recently moving to the school district.

On Friday, the ACLU of Wisconsin sent a letter to Sheboygan Falls High School, asking that it reinstate the boys, Jordan and Juwaun Jackson. The civil rights group also requested information about school policies to ensure they comply with state law and federal guidelines regarding “discipline practices which disproportionately impact students of color.”

According to the U.S. Census, Sheboygan Falls has an estimated population of 7,769 that's 96.1% white and 0.6% black.

After the suspension was overturned, the Wisconsin ACLU released the following statement:

“The ACLU of Wisconsin is pleased that the Sheboygan Falls School District has lifted the one-game suspension of two basketball players for allegedly displaying gang signs. We believe the suspension was unwarranted based on the facts and the law protecting public school students from violations of their rights.

While details of this afternoon’s appeals hearing and dismissal are not known, the ACLU of Wisconsin believes that the district’s reversal was the only reasonable outcome. We hope that the Sheboygan Falls School District, its teachers, students and parents can learn from this incident not to jump to unwarranted and possibly biased conclusions.

The ACLU of Wisconsin’s investigation of the district’s policies and practices regarding student rights and nondiscrimination will continue. We will share our findings with the district and community. If necessary we will offer our assistance to improve district policies and practices.”

The three-finger gesture one brother makes in the photo is similar to some NBA players use to note three-point shots. The Sheboygan Falls News' Facebook page reports:

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.

Examples of NBA players celebrating after making a 3-pointer include:

Nick Young of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates after making a three point basket against the Miami Heat at Staples Center on December 25, 2013.
Nick Young of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates after making a three point basket against the Miami Heat at Staples Center on December 25, 2013.
Credit Stephen Dunn / Getty Images Sport

James Harden of the Houston Rockets reacts to a three-point shot during the game against the Golden State Warriors on December 6, 2013.
James Harden of the Houston Rockets reacts to a three-point shot during the game against the Golden State Warriors on December 6, 2013.
Credit Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Quincy Pondexter of the Memphis Grizzlies celebrates after making a three point shot during the NBA game against the Boston Celtics on November 4, 2013.
Quincy Pondexter of the Memphis Grizzlies celebrates after making a three point shot during the NBA game against the Boston Celtics on November 4, 2013.
Credit Andy Lyons/Getty Images