Liberty and Justice for Whom? Virginia Senate Guard Who Grabbed Black Teen, Forced Him to Stand for Pledge Apologizes

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A Virginia Capitol police officer is apologizing after physically forcing an African-American teen to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance during a visit to the state Senate last week.

The incident unfolded Tuesday when 16-year-old Jaesean “Jae” Plummer, who was there to witness a special legislative session with fellow teens from the local Boys & Girls Club, remained seated in protest as the pledge was recited, the blog “Friendly Athiest” reported.

That’s when witnesses said a white Capitol officer “physically forced Jae to stand by first tapping his shoulder, then pulling him up by his shirt” before telling the teen “in here, we stand.”

Virginia Senate Police
A Virginia Senate police officer came under fire after grabbing a Black teen and pulling him to his feet when he remained seated during the Pledge of Allegiance. (Photo taken by Twitter user @SatirclAlx)

Witness accounts, along with photos from the incident sparked a social media firestorm and even prompted an investigation.

http://<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Oh…and irony…the capitol police officer who accosted the young man was actually the one breaking pledge protocol. You’re not supposed to walk or otherwise move about during the pledge of allegiance. A military officer schooled me on that.</p>&mdash; Satirical Alexandria – Rated Fx by the NRA (@SatirclAlx) <a href=”https://twitter.com/SatirclAlx/status/1149327259393806336?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>July 11, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

“To some it may not seem like a big deal, but as a black male in America this was a big issue and rightfully so,” the teen’s mom, Monica Hutchinson, said after the incident. “Our black bodies have been [and] continue to be policed and devalued every day. My son’s rights were violated. HE was violated.”

On Saturday, Hutchinson provided an update on the incident involving her son and praised Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Va.) for calling a meeting with Jae, his parents, herself, the police officer in question, and Col. Pike, a Clerk of the Senate. During the meeting, Hutchinson said the officer, who remains unnamed, acknowledged her wrongs and apologized to Jae “several times.”

“We do feel the apology was sincere,” she wrote in a statement posted on Facebook. “She admitted she’s never had anyone challenge, or resist her directions before so she didn’t know how to handle the situation.”

Hutchinson said while Pike’s ignorance doesn’t excuse her actions, she appreciates the officer for being honest and admitting her mistake.

“She didn’t make any excuses for her actions,” Hutchinson told Atlanta Black Star in an interview.

She said she was happy to have that dialogue about why they protest the pledge, explaining the reason her son protests is because he believes the line promising “… liberty and justice for all” is simply untrue. And the law protects his right to do so.

In the landmark case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that forcing students to salute the flag and pledge allegiance was a violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The issue gained renewed attention year after an 11-year-old Florida student was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor after he refused to stand for the pledge. Authorities in that case maintained they arrested the boy for being disruptive, not for refusing to stand for the pledge.

Since the incident, Hutchinson said she remains “hopeful yet realistic” there will be meaningful change in the wake of her son’s act of principle. She said Col. Pike has promised to implement a few changes at the capitol, including a commitment to have an ongoing dialogue between police and teens at the Boys & Girls Club about their perspectives on the silent protest.

“They say they will, so now comes the accountability,” said Hutchinson. “We’re going to hold [Col. Pike] to it. We’re going to make sure this is an ongoing conversation, and ensure that all of our kids are heard.”

Sen. McClellan, who called the initial meeting with the Hutchinsons and Capitol police leadership, told ABS that capitol police plan to revisit their training for officers in the wake of the incident as well as update the script for the invocation of the pledge to make it clear that standing isn’t mandatory.

“The number one goal I had was to make sure that Jae and his family were heard, that they had their concerns heard, were able to express how they felt, and that we found a path forward.” she said. “And I think we did that.”

A Division of Capitol Police spokesman provided Atlanta Black Star with the following statement:

“The meeting, which also included a member of the Senate and the clerk of the Senate, produced a good exchange of ideas and opened the line of communications. We look forward to working with the Senate and others in making positive changes.

As for the officer involved, we will not comment on personnel matters.”

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