Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Gang Sign That Wasn't: 2014’s First Curmie Contender

The shockingly violent, terrifying, depraved, pose that started it all.

Gentle Reader, if you are not scandalized by the threatening nature of the photo above, I am sorry to inform you that you have no future in public school administration, at least in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin.

True, the two young men on the left didn’t actually have to serve the suspension initially imposed on them for making “gang signs,” but the mere fact that such a punishment was contemplated, let alone meted out, should cause a shudder. The level of utter stupidity evidenced by the school administration and apparently the police as well surpasses credulity.

Here’s the story: the three brothers in the photograph—Jordan, Juwaun, and Jamal Jackson—were had transferred to Sheboygan Falls from Sheboygan South this year, so the local paper decided to run a feature story on them. It wasn’t terribly informative, but it was a perfectly reasonably puff piece, noting for example that “Jordan is currently starting for the varsity unit and averaging 7.1 points per game. He has a way of finding his way to the hoop and has a nice 3-point shot.” Remember that last phrase, Gentle Reader: “nice 3-point shot.”

The paper’s editor took a couple of photos: what local television reporter Lacey Crisp describes as “one serious pic, and a goofy pic. The goofy picture ran.” That would be the “goofy pic,” above. There was not the slightest ripple when the story ran, quite possibly because it would be difficult for any rational being to imagine anything more innocuous.

But—depending on the version of the story—either “parents complained” or “’an outside police agency’ … later identified as a police liaison officer, presumably from another school—contacted Sheboygan Falls’ liaison officer” with allegations that Jordan and Juwuan were making “gang signs.”

After an investigation which presumably involved examining the smoldering entrails of a sacrificial wombat—because it sure as hell didn’t involve evidence, logic, or even a superficial knowledge of basketball—the powers-that-be determined that the completely innocent gestures the boys were making were “confirmed” as gang signs by a gaggle of badge-wearing cretins who would have to take a step up in class to have the policing skills of Barney Fife.

Here’s Maclean Bennett in the Sheboygan Press:
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.

Riffel noted his department didn’t believe Jordan used the sign intentionally as a gang symbol. He said Jordan told police who interviewed him that his gesture was one that professional basketball players use after making a 3-point shot.
There are a couple of things to note here. I’m no lawyer, but it strikes me that even if they were gang signs, such a gesture qualifies as protected speech (the fact that schools have been allowed to get away with this crap for years doesn’t make it constitutional).

John Boehner: Stealth Gang-Banger
There’s more, of course. Again, even if Jordan’s gesture is a gang sign, it is also a far more widely recognized signal of a three-point shot. It’s the sign the referees use in a game; it’s been adopted by professional, college, and (one presumes) high school players as well. That’s House Speaker John Boehner at left, making the same gesture. Curmie has no respect for Mr. Boehner as either politician or man, but I sincerely doubt that he is a member of a notorious LA-based gang.

That gesture is all about making a 3. Jordan has “a nice 3-point shot,” remember? Maybe, in a picture in which he was presumably encouraged to clown around a little, he might throw in a little basketball-related swagger? Let’s face it: even an idiot like Steve Riffel recognizes that intentionality matters, and that Jordan didn’t intend to suggest anything gang-related. Juwaun’s gesture was deemed not to be gang-related, but the school decided to suspend him anyway, because punishing people for phantom crimes isn’t Kafkaesque or anything, right?

An actual gang sign.  This is precisely the same gesture as the one
used by Jordan Jackson.  Except for... you know... the differences.
Finally, there’s this: Jordan’s gesture wasn’t a gang sign, at least not according to a site which purports to be able to tell. It bears some resemblance to a symbol used by the Bloods, but it’s different. The 3-point sign used by Jordan Jackson and every other outside shooter at any level of basketball from the playground to the pros, consists of touching the tip of the index finger to the tip of the thumb while extending the other three fingers. The Bloods sign, shown at right, has the tip of the index finger touching the middle joint of the thumb. Similar? Sure, but not the same.  And close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades... oh, and for the TSA, but don't get me started on them.

It took me about 15 seconds on the Google Machine to find out that the allegations against Jordan Jackson were false not merely in terms of intent, but also in terms of content. But I’m reasonably adept on the Interwebs… it might have taken a less skilled researcher as much as two minutes.

So… the charge is that Jordan and Juwaun made gang signs. There is no evidence at all against Juwaun. As for Jordan—well, even the Inspector Clouseau wannabe making the charge admits that there was no intent to flash a gang sign: the youngster’s claim that he was just making a gesture he’s seen hundreds of times from his basketball heroes was believed. And it turns out that Jordan didn’t make a gang sign even by accident.

If you or I, Gentle Reader, were in the position of Sheboygan Falls School District Administrator Jean Born, what we’d do would be easily determined: tell the outside cops, parents, or whoever else to go get a life and, while they’re at it, to STFU. That’s because we haven’t achieved the special kind of stupid that comes with being a school administrator. What Born did, of course, was to issue the suspensions—subsequently overturning that decision not in light of new evidence (there was none), but simply because the utter inanity of the suspension brought unwanted national media attention, and she didn’t want the embarrassment. (Of course, by this time that particular equine had long since departed its lodgings.)

Born took offense at the suggestion that the decision was racially motivated. Was there in fact a racial element to the suspension, as the leftie press would have it? Frankly, I doubt it, although prejudice may well have catalyzed the initial complaints. And the Bloods are a predominantly African-American gang. But whereas all racism is stupid, not all stupidity is racist, and Riffle and Born seem more of the garden variety blockhead variety.

Born’s argument for suspending two students from the game against the team’s arch-rival was “student safety.” The district, she claimed, sought a “balanced approach” to the situation, trying to “make sure that everybody that comes here feels safe.” In Born’s world, that means it’s a good thing to pander to every paranoid delusion of every interfering asshat in a 50-mile radius. What it doesn’t mean is keeping students safe from being punished for things they didn’t do, when it is indeed screamingly obvious that they didn’t to do them. What it doesn’t mean is defending students against outsiders when those outsiders are clearly in the wrong, whether or not intentionally so. What it doesn’t mean is showing more maturity than one’s teen-aged charges—that, after all, seems far too high a hurdle to surmount.

“Of course it’s an overreaction,” Chris Ahmuty, the Wisconsin ACLU chapter’s executive director, told Sheboygan Press Media. He said a better solution would have been to have the coach simply discuss the matter with the players. Ahmuty is wrong. There is no “matter” to “discuss.” To dignify the absurd allegations levelled against the Jackson brothers with any kind of credence is professionally, intellectually, and ethically wrong. The “better solution” is to send all these yahoos a box of All-Bran. The “better solution” is to replace Riffel and Born with people with more mental capacity than a particularly dim-witted chipmunk. The “better solution” is to completely ignore anyone, anywhere, with the title “liaison officer.” The “better solution,” in short, is the absolute, categorical, and unwavering rejection of silly accusations.

Curmie is not holding his breath… lest he turn blue. That’s the color of the Crips, after all. Wouldn’t want any confusion.

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