ACLU of Ohio Blasts Police for Harassing Teens Wearing "Insane Clown Posse" T-Shirts

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
August 12, 1999 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Ohio
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


CLEVELAND — The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today said it may take legal action against Northwood officials after police officers harassed two 8th-graders because of their T-shirt choice, confiscating one of the shirts.

The two youths in question were walking through a Northwood neighborhood last Tuesday when three police officers stopped them. The officers began to harass and intimidate them because they were both wearing T-shirts, one with profanities, promoting Insane Clown Posse, a popular rock/rap band.

The youths said the officers told them that they could not wear such shirts in Northwood and that if one of them did not take the shirt off, the officer would “rip it off” of him.

“Whatever the officers may think, the First Amendment protects the right to say offensive things, and police may not strong-arm juveniles for exercising their constitutional right to free expression,” said ACLU of Ohio Vice President Jeffrey Gamso.

One of the officers also allegedly claimed that the state had banned Insane Clown Posse shirts and that Northwood police were going to start enforcing the ban.

“You can’t be wearing that out in public,” Detective Sgt. Al Williams told the Toledo Blade in an August 7 interview, declaring that wearing the T-shirt “is not freedom of speech.” Another police officer, Joe Conley, told the Blade that he could have charged one of the youths with disorderly conduct because of the T-shirt.

“All three officers are wrong,” Gamso said. “The people of Northwood should be ashamed of the officers’ actions,” he added, noting that confiscation of the T-shirt also violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unlawful seizure.

“Almost as shocking as the incident itself is the fact that the officers continue to maintain that they did nothing wrong,” said Christine Link, Executive Director of the ACLU of Ohio.

“It is a truly dismal situation when police, sworn to uphold the Constitution, display no knowledge of the document itself.”

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release