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Certain activities in the United States are lethal or criminal based solely on the racial composition of the person doing them. Driving while black, for instance, prompts suspicion across the country. Walking while black has earned teenagers a death sentence in certain Florida neighborhoods, and seeking out police help while black has proved a dangerous task for former football players in North Carolina.

Now we have a particularly toxic confluence of bad American ideas in a bigger than small Wisconsin community. The over-policing of American high schools often produces results where standard stupidity lands students suspension or worse. And sometimes, when the pre-disposition in a community is toward scrutinizing the scary, inherently suspicious black youths which make up a small percentage of the community's minority base, students have the lives sidetracked for doing basically nothing at all.

That's what's happened in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, where two students from Sheboygan Falls High Schools were suspended after a newspaper article showed them "flashing" what some police chief "confirmed" as "gang signs."

If you knew absolutely nothing about basketball, then you'd still be wrong for thinking that any of these three smiling, innocuous young men should be suspended from school for what took place in that picture. After all, the picture was only discovered when the local newspaper ran a positive public interest piece on the players in question.

But I'm a Wisconsin basketball fan, and because of that, I have a slightly different take on this situation. The young man on the left, Jordan Jackson, explained that he was simply throwing up three fingers, a common basketball expression for players who just made a three-point basket. The young man in the middle appears to simply be pointing at the camera, a pose that I made in probably 100 pictures when I was in high school.

There's more to this, though. The Wisconsin Badgers are currently ranked third in the country, and they've lost one basketball game this year. Last season, they made the NCAA basketball tournament. Over the last decade, Wisconsin has been one of the best, most consistently good programs in the country. This is important because, like they did Tuesday night and will do against Saturday night, the Badgers often play on ESPN and other national networks. And if you spent even a few minutes watching Wisconsin basketball this year or last, then you'll quickly recognize the "gang sign" that got Jackson in hot water.

Below, you will see Sam Dekker, the disputed best player for Wisconsin and a graduate of Sheboygan Lutheran High School. Two years ago, he led his high school to the Wisconsin 5A state championship and was unarguably the best high school player in the state. A five-star recruit, he signed with the Badgers and is expected to someday forge a career in the NBA. One could easily imagine young men like Jackson emulating Dekker, and for good reason.

Next, you'll see the entire Wisconsin bench. When Wisconsin buries a three-point shot - which is often, as the Badgers shoot it from outside more often and more effectively than almost anyone - the Badger bench throws up "confirmed" gang signs. As you can see in the picture, one of the players is even using three fingers to form a pair of glasses. Those who watch Badger basketball can attest that that particular move will soon turn into three fingers raised high, just as the other players are doing.
Feb 9, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Bo Ryan and his team celebrate a Wisconsin three-point basket as their team plays the Michigan Wolverines at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin defeated Michigan 65-62 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports
While the easy first response is to laugh at police chiefs and school administrators who are so far removed from their own local reality and so pre-disposed against their own students that they don't even recognize basketball players doing something they've seen on television from the most successful basketball team in the state, the more pressing question is why we immediately assume that three otherwise law-abiding and unassuming black children are suspicious while players for the state's flagship basketball team have been throwing up the same signs with impunity for more than a year without prompting the suspicion of, well, anyone.

It's a sad indictment of the reality faced by young black kids in America and especially in American schools. The default setting, it seems, is criminality, and these kids are burdened by an act first, ask questions later mentality that makes them prove that they aren't members of dangerous gangs. It must have been comforting to the many who complained to the school district about the picture to learn that the three teenagers in question were not a part of some Blood sleeper cell operating quietly in 95-percent white Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

Those people should take a step back and ask themselves why, when young black kids from their community make these hand motions, they assume the worst, while when Sam Dekker does it, they likely celebrate with a fist pump or excited yell. Young boys of all races should be able to emulate their sports heroes. In fact, Sam Dekker - a guy with a lot of game and seemingly clean record - wouldn't be a bad guy for a kid from Sheboygan to look up to. The reality in America, however, is that young men like Jordan Jackson must look twice before doing most anything, including celebrating a made three-pointer.  

Originally posted to Coby DuBose on Criminal Injustice, Race, and Poverty on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 03:51 PM PST.

Also republished by Badger State Progressive, RaceGender DiscrimiNATION, Barriers and Bridges, Support the Dream Defenders, and Black Kos community.

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