An 18-year-old black man and his friend were kicked out of the Greater Jacksonville Agriculture Fair, without refund or apology, for their attire.
The two friends, who are members of the black male empowerment group, EVAC, were going about their business on November 3 when police officers approached one of them and questioned the chain he was wearing around his neck. The jewelry honored his late mother. The officers said the chain was "gang-related" apparel.
"There were like four officers. They approached us, and the first one told us to pull up my pants, and the second one told my friend and said, 'Let me see that,’ and he told him that it was his mom and it wasn’t even his friend, it was his mom," he told News4Jax. "They told us to get out."
The next day, one of the guys headed back to the fair to double-check the rule board for any established rules around attire. There were none. Then, he called to clarify he has yet to see any rules that justify the reason for him and his friend's removal from the fair.
Shortly after his phone call, a sign prohibiting "memorial clothing or jewelry" was posted. According to News4Jax, fair officials claim the sign was put up before the fair opened October 31.
The incident has sparked tensions in the Jacksonville community between civilians and police. Amy Donofrio, the founder of EVAC, is calling the case for what it is: racial profiling.
“It’s used purposely to prey upon and keep out African-Americans in the community,” Donofrio said. On the contrary, Gayle Hart, a spokeswoman for the fair, said this is a sensitive situation that has caused a lot of grief. Hart also said the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office banned the clothing and jewelry because it's associated with "bad behavior."
The banning of "memorial clothing and jewelry" did not just stop at the fair but matriculated to Robert E. Lee high school, as well. The high school's officials told News4Jax the reason for banning the items is because "gang-affiliated clothing and paraphernalia is unacceptable," referring to any R.I.P. attire.
“It said we can’t wear them. Basically, no necklaces, none of that,” said Jarod Mills, a Lee High School senior, about the school's decision. “They don’t feel it’s appropriate for the school.”
The west Jacksonville school has yet to comment on the ban, and its attempt to shut down the students' expression in honoring lost loved ones has been the tip of the iceberg and caused several students to organize protests.
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