Charges Over Eighth Grader’s NRA T-Shirt At School Prompted Emergency Gag Order

(Credit: Associated Press/YouTube)

Even after public outcry, Logan County, West Virginia prosecutors moved forward with charges against the eighth grader who was arrested and detained after he got in a fight with his teacher over a National Rifle Association T-shirt that displayed a hunting rifle. Police charged him with obstructing an officer, and prosecutors filed an emergency motion this week to bar Jared Marcum and his family from talking about his story to the press. Marcum was suspended, and was facing up to a year in jail and a $500 fine.

The arrest garnered national attention, both because it raised questions about alleged suppression of student expression on a nationally prominent issue, and because the school’s response rendered criminal an incident that started with a student’s wardrobe choice. Criminalizing what is at most a school disciplinary violation perpetuates what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline, in which youth are diverted away from school and into the criminal justice system.

According to accounts of the incident, Marcum’s teacher asked him to take the shirt off, claiming it was a violation of the school’s dress code policy, and Marcum refused, saying he was exercising his free speech rights. Marcum said his response was calm and matter-of-fact. The city police chief, however, said Marcum “almost incited a riot” although he does not explain how.

A television reporter appeared at the gag order hearing this week to file a motion to intervene was thrown out of the hearing and threatened with arrest. WOWK, the local outlet whose reporter was removed from the hearing, is now reporting that the local charges were dropped.