KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the Kansas City school district over its punishment of a student who displayed the “Hands up, don’t shoot!” gesture while Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was giving a speech.
Nixon was at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy last month when 14 students held up their hands in protest, the ACLU of Missouri said in a lawsuit filed Monday on behalf of the mother of one of the students. The pose has come to symbolize a movement, even though witnesses offered conflicting accounts of whether 18-year-old Michael Brown had his hands up in surrender when he was killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in August.
The lawsuit contends that school administrators ushered the students out of the auditorium, sent them home and threatened them with a 10-day suspension. The district finally settled on a Saturday detention, which the lawsuit says violated the girl’s First Amendment right to free speech.
“School administrators cannot punish students for communications they think will bring negative attention to the school,” Sarah Rossi, the Missouri ACLU’s director of advocacy and policy, said in a written statement. “The First Amendment does not permit that.”
The Kansas City Star reported that the district didn’t comment directly on the lawsuit, but said in an earlier statement that students faced discipline for refusing to obey an administrator’s order to sit down, not for exercising their right to free expression. A district spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press.
Nixon said at the time of the protest that he understands the students’ concerns. He said they’re “going to be—and need to be—a force, so that we can be a better state and better society after this.”