Two Mississippi high school students were maliciously expelled after they were photographed making supposedly gang-related hand gestures, even though the kids had no idea that simply holding up three fingers — an homage to their football jersey numbers — was a gang thing.
Fifteen-year-old Dontadrian Bruce, a student and football player at Olive Branch High School in Olive Branch, Mississippi, was photographed by his science teacher for a project. He instinctively raised his thumb and two fingers to represent his football jersey number, three.
What he didn’t know was that the Chicago-based Vice Lords gang uses the same hand gesture — and that he had unwittingly violated district policy against gang-related paraphernalia in schools, according to NBC News.
When Assistant Principal Todd Nichols noticed the picture, he promptly suspended Bruce and accused him of being a “gangbanger.”
“‘You’re suspended because you’re holding up gang signs in this picture,’” said Nichols, according to Bruce. “You’re a gangbanger.’”
Desmond Davis, a friend of Bruce’s, was also suspended for the exact same offense. Davis’s older brother also wears the number three. (RELATED: School forces half-naked, sopping wet student to stand outside, frostbite results)
The parents of the two boys were shocked and said that neither were involved with gangs.
“He’s a good child,” said Janet Hightower, Bruce’s mother, according to The Daily Mail. “I know what he does 24 hours a day. If he leaves home and goes two houses down, he’s gonna text me and let me know.”
Even more shocking: After three days, the suspensions morphed into expulsions. Bruce and Davis were told not to return to school for the rest of the year.
“Indefinite suspension with a recommendation of expulsion,” was the disciplinary committee’s ultimate verdict. (RELATED:Impoverished school district sends admins on lavish Common Core spa trip)
Many in the community were outraged. Even Bruce’s former football coach said there was essentially zero chance that the teenager was involved in gang activity.
The outrage paid off, and following media coverage, both boys were invited back to school after a 21-day suspension.
Many say common sense should have prevented administrators from disciplining the boys in the first place. Sadly, so-called “zero tolerance” policies often result in otherwise well-behaved students facing steep punishments for innocent misunderstandings or harmless mistakes.
Others have pointed out the racial aspect of this case.
“They figured I was a gang member because of my color,” said Bruce.
The school could not immediately be reached for comment.