A Mississippi high school student has been suspended for making what he claims to be an innocuous gesture with his hands during a school photograph. The student, 15-year-old Dontadrian Bruce, was photographed by his biology teacher at Olive Branch High School in Olive Branch, Miss. while standing in front of his group science project. In the photograph, Bruce holds up his thumb, forefinger and middle finger outwards, making a gesture that the school administration believed to be a gang sign affiliated with the Vice Lords.
When Bruce was taken to the assistant principal’s office, he was told that he was going to be suspended for displaying gang signs at school. Bruce protested, claiming he was holding up three fingers to represent his number on the football team.
“I was trying to tell my side, and it was like they didn’t even care,” Bruce said to NBC News.
For the photograph, Bruce received “indefinite suspension with a recommendation of expulsion.”
Bruce’s stepfather Marcus Guy claimed that Bruce’s suspension stemmed from racial issues in the local community. He explained that a white student in a similar situation would have been treated differently.
“I was born and raised here, graduated from Olive Branch, and I’m telling you: they would have done nothing,” Guy said.
Bruce echoed his stepfather’s statements.
“They figured I was a gang member because of my color,” he said.
According to the school, Bruce was suspended from Olive Branch High School because the school has a no tolerance policy regarding gang activity. There is a high presence of gangs, especially Vice Lords, in the surrounding area. Two other students were also punished for making the hand gesture, WMCTV reports.