A travesty that’s ripped apart a community in Dallas has taken another ugly turn this week.
The story begins in 2008, when a 16-year-old high school cheerleader called only “HS” was gang-raped at a party. Three young men ended up arrested for the assault, one of whom was Rakheem Bolton. Bolton ended up pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault, for which he was given two years probation and a fine, avoiding jail time.
Because the felony charges were dropped, Bolton was able to return to school and participate in all the regular school activities, including varsity basketball. As if the awkwardness of seeing her attacker at school everyday wasn’t bad enough, HS was a cheerleader, meaning that when Bolton played basketball, she was expected to cheer for him. One day, HS had had enough.
“I didn't want to have to say his name and I didn't want to cheer for him," she told reporters in 2009. "I just didn't want to encourage anything he was doing.”
To that end, HS refused to cheer for Bolton when he stepped up to take some free throws during a game in January 2009, four months after he had pleaded guilty to the attack. When she folded her arms and stood silently, however, her school’s superintendent, Richard Bain, ordered her outside and told her she had to cheer for Bolton. When she refused again, HS was kicked off the cheerleading squad.
HS later sued the school for kicking her off the team, but the results of that lawsuit have time and again gone terrifyingly against her. Two different courts have found against HS’ suit. Most recently, an appeals court’s decision read, “As a cheerleader, HS served as a mouthpiece through which [the school district] could disseminate speech—namely, support for its athletic teams. This act constituted substantial interference with the work of the school because, as a cheerleader, HS was at the basketball game for the purpose of cheering, a position she undertook voluntarily.”
Also, the Supreme Court recently refused to hear HS’ case, meaning not only that her attempts at justice are over, but that she must now pay $45,000 in attorney’s fees to her school district as compensation for filing a “frivolous” lawsuit.
If this is justice, then I’m terrified to see what injustice looks like. I’m not a lawyer, but it seems terrifying that an innocent involvement with a school activity like cheerleading is now being deemed as something over which the school has total control—so much so that administrators get to demand girls cheer or don’t cheer. What sort of precedent is this setting? Will Black cheerleaders have to cheer on racists? Will Jews have to cheer on anti-Semites? And all because they want to be involved in the harmless American pastime that is high school cheerleading?
Schools and teachers are already allowed a major amount of control over America’s children, largely because we trust that they have those children’s best interests in mind. It’s cases like this, in which a little girl had her entire life ripped apart all because the school wanted total control over her actions, that makes one wonder whose interests are really important.
(Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty)