A month after a Florida middle school student was arrested, charged and suspended from school after he refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation has helped him get his charges dismissed.
On Feb. 4, Jabari Talbot told his substitute teacher at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy that he won’t stand for the pledge because the American flag is racist and the national anthem is offensive to Black people, Spectrum Bay News 9 reported. (In a court filing against the school, the boy and his attorney dispute that account, saying at no point in that exchange did the boy call the flag or anthem “racist,” or use that term at all. Rather, the filing says Jabari spoke of Black people not being treated fairly in America.)
The substitute, Ana Alvarez, had asked the 11-year-old why he didn’t stand for the pledge, and a police report states Jabari became infuriated when Alvarez asked, “Why, if it was so bad here, he did not go to another place to [live]?” In court documents, the boy disputes this characterization, saying he did not become upset, but rather it was Alvarez who lost her cool.
Jabari asked the sub if she meant he should go back to Africa, a filing with the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Division reveals. It states that the teacher replied, “Yes, if that is where you came from … that is where you need to be!” The civil suit further states that Alvarez, who is identified in the filing as Cuban-American, ignored a Hispanic boy who also sat during the pledge as Jabari did, asking only the African-American child why he didn’t stand.
A school resource officer arrested Jabari, later claiming he became disruptive, would not follow multiple orders and repeatedly called the teachers and administrators racist, the arrest affidavit states. It also said the sixth-grader threatened to have Alvarez and the principal fired and to beat the substitute. Jabari denies threatening Alvarez with a beating.
A spokesperson with Polk County Public Schools said to Spectrum News that students are not required to do the pledge, which Alvarez was unaware of. She has since been banned from working at any schools in the district. (A 1943 Supreme Court case involving Jehovah’s Witnesses addressed the matter at the heart of Jabari’s case. In a 6-3 decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, justices found that government cannot compel expressions of patriotism, finding that a West Virginia school’s attempt to force two Jehovah’s Witnesses students to salute the flag violated their First Amendment rights.)
“I’m upset, I’m angry. I’m hurt,” Jabari’s mother, Dhakira Talbot, told the news outlet. She also said her son has been the target of bullies before. “More so for my son. My son has never been through anything like this. I feel like this should’ve been handled differently. If any disciplinary action should’ve been taken, it should’ve been with the school. He shouldn’t have been arrested.”
The case caught the attention of Roc Nation’s philanthropic arm, Team Roc, which works “with our partners across all industries, we raise awareness around issues of injustice and we take collective action to give back.”
“We stand with Jabari and his mother to stop the over-policing and criminalization of Black students,” Roc Nation said in part in a Feb. 21 tweet.
Team Roc contacted attorney Alex Spiro to take on the case pro bono.
“Jabari is a courageous and intelligent young man who deserves all the credit for standing up for his beliefs,” Spiro said in a statement. “He should’ve never been arrested or entangled ink this situation — his freedom of speech rights were clearly protected under the 1st Amendment.”
In the weeks since, tons of Roc Nation athletes have spoken out in support of Jabari, including Miami Heat star Justise Winslow and Jacksonville Jaguars’ Leonard Fournette, who invited Jabari to a game.
By Wednesday, March 6, Jabari’s Tampa, Florida, attorney Roderick Ford revealed all charges had been dropped.
“Although we are very thankful that the Polk County Juvenile Court has closed the file, and there will be no criminal prosecution by the Polk County State Attorney’s Office, our journey to justice against the perennial criminalization of millions of black youth who attend public schools continues, as a civil rights complaint is now currently pending before the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights,” he said.
Ford also said that while he’s prepared to debate in court, he doesn’t believe the case should go to trial. Rather, he hopes the Department of Education will have all parties involved agree on a “fair and just resolution of this case.”
“The system tried to force Jabari Talbot into diversion. Jabari did not commit a crime. Guilty plea refused. Case dismissed. We applaud and support you Jabari. #JabariTalbot,” Team Roc tweeted March 1.
Still, Dhakira Talbot maintained that the battle is not totally over yet.
“Although Jabari’s case has been dismissed, I do want people to know this isn’t just about my son — this prejudice happens to African-American kids all across the country,” she said according to The Ledger. “The fight isn’t over, which is why I have a civil rights complaint pending with the U.S. Department of Education. At the end of the day, I want to ensure that no child ever has to experience this injustice again.”