The latest battle over police brutality and #BlackLivesMatter is being waged on… T-shirts?
In Baltimore, some residents are furious over a T-shirt featuring a large brick and the slogan, “The Baltimore Riot 2015, The Battle of Mondawmin.” Baltimore became the center of #BlackLivesMatter protests following the death of Freddie Gray, and a riot began this summer after police cornered black teenagers at Mondawmin Mall. The group selling the controversial T-shirts say that all proceeds will be used to support the six police officers charged in Gray’s death, which has only further antagonized local residents.
And that’s not the only T-shirt causing controversy this September. In Houston, Fatimah Bouderdaben, 17, designed a light blue T-shirt with the words “#BlackLivesMatter” on the front, while the back included the names of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and 23 more victims of alleged police brutality. When Bouderdaben wore the custom designed T-shirt to the Harmony School for Advancement, she says the Dean of Students criticized her shirt and sent her home.
Many students in Houston were paying tribute to Texas Sheriff Deputy Darren Goforth at the time, who was tragically executed at a gas station. According to a school spokesperson, students related to police officers complained about the teen’s #BlackLivesMatter shirt.
“We were told by the administration to either cover it up, take it off or be pulled from class and sent home,” Bouderdaben said. “My friends chose to change but I refused to because I was not breaking dress code.”
The article of clothing might seem like a strange battleground for activists, but there are legitimate free speech concerns in the drama. Nine out of 10 Americans say that they own at least one T-shirt they refuse to throw away for sentimental reasons. And in the landmark Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines, SCOTUS ruled that high school students don’t “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
However, the court also said that students’ free speech rights must be balanced with school administrators’ obligation to maintain order. That’s exactly what the Harmony School claims the Dean of students was trying to accomplish by sending Bouderdaben home.
“We don’t want fights in the school. We were trying to contain and handle her as delicately as possible,” said the spokesperson.
For her part, Bouderdaben says she would rather “speak than stay silent.”