Student Forced to Remove Gang Symbol From Hair

Filed under: Opinions

painted starAccording to the FBI, a street gang is "a criminal enterprise having an organizational structure, acting as a continuing criminal conspiracy, which employs violence and any other criminal activity to sustain the enterprise." Like most organizations, gangs generally adopt some sort of visual identifier to differentiate themselves from other organizations. In the corporate world, this is called a logo. In the world of thugs, it's called a gang symbol. I don't know if gangs are so prevalent that they are running out of unique identifiers or if gang members are just not that creative, but it seems that their chosen symbols are becoming more and more benign. Instead of angry skull faces or bleeding hearts, gangs are adopting everyday items and symbols and basically ruining them for non-gang members.

Gangs have already claimed rosary beads and scarves, and now, as one middle-schooler in Elizabeth City, New Jersey discovered, they've got stars. River Road Middle School student Jay Cowell was made aware of this fact after having a really cool celestial design shaved into his hair. He meant it to be a symbol for "God and all the stuff he made on the earth." But because the design included a star, which is known to be a gang symbol, he was told to remove it from his hair.

School administrators don't believe that Jay himself is a gang member, but the student handbook states that "displaying, or selling any clothing, jewelry, emblems, badges, symbols, signs, body markings, or other items" is prohibited. Jay's mom, Natasha, believes the school's actions are unfair to her son and that he should be judged as an individual and not by the behavior of others. I see her point, but if stars really are a gang symbol, it is probably in Jay's best interest not to be walking around with one on his head. As proof that the school was trying to protect Jay rather than punish him, Assistant Superintendent Linwood Williams paid for Jay's new haircut with his own money.

I feel bad for Jay. He's clearly a good kid trying to express his individuality. And while I don't blame the school administrators for allowing gangs to take over everyday items and symbols for themselves, I wonder if there isn't something they could do about it. What if, for example, every student wore a star or a scarf or whatever? Would that not rob the symbol of its negative connotation and return it to benignity?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.