NOTE: The following article originally ran in the Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008, edition of the Lebanon Express.
Fans of the rap group Insane Clown Posse (ICP) at Lebanon High School believe they are being unfairly singled out by a ban on clothing items associated with the group and have asked the school board to intervene.
ICP first came on to the music scene in the 1990s. The Michigan-based band is composed of two members with the stage names Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope. Male fans of the group are known as Juggalos and females as Juggalettes. Clothing or jewelry with a running male figure with a hatchet — "Hatchet Man" — is the signature mark of Juggalos.
The band's lyrics glorify violence, such as the following from the song "My Axe":
"My axe is my buddy; I bring him when I walk
"Me and my axe will leave your head outlined in chalk
"My axe is my buddy; he always makes me laugh
"Me and my axe cut bigot spinal cords in half."
New Student Resource Officer Tim Shanks said he noticed students wearing the attire, often associated with gang activity, when school started, and notified principal Mark Finch. The ban on Juggalo clothing takes effect today.
Finch said he initially planned to make Oct. 1 the date ICP clothing was no longer allowed, but decided more time was needed to educate students and give parents a payday period to replace Juggalo garments.
Lebanon School Board policy defines a gang as "a group that identifies itself through the use of a name, unique appearance or language, including hand signs, the claiming of geographical territory or the espousing of distinctive belief system that frequently results in criminal activity."
Juggalos have been linked to violent crime in other parts of the country. There does not appear to be any affiliation between groups identifying themselves as Juggalos.
"ICP is a hardcore rap group identified with gang activity throughout the U.S.," Shanks said, adding he has no reason to suspect any of the band's followers at LHS are engaged in criminal activity.
"I want to make clear that students identified as Juggalos are very mature and polite. Every time we've spoken, they've shown me the utmost respect," Shanks said.
Clothing linked to Mexican gangs and white supremacy groups show up at the school as well, Shanks said.
"It can be certain colors of clothes worn a certain way or as simple as the wearing of a belt a certain way," Shanks said.
"I just feel like they've been misinformed. There are students who wear the clothing who are on the football team, 'A' students and involved the community. It's just like wearing a AC/DC or Marilyn Mason shirt," said Jessica McNeil, 17, who presented to the Lebanon School Board a petition signed by 100 students on Oct. 5, asking for the ban to be lifted.
Critics accuse Manson of promoting violence through his music. On Oct. 10, 2007, a 14-year-old fan wearing a T-shirt of the shock rocker shot four people at an Ohio school before killing himself.
Manson clothing, along with that of groups who lyrics and image McNeil says are just as violent as ICP, is still permitted at the high school.
McNeil, a junior in the Information Systems academy, admits the lyrics are violent but says Juggalos consider themselves a family and shun violence. There are about 10 to 15 students she would classify as Juggalos, she said.
"We believe in a morals-and-respect system the music may not portray," she said. "We believe we do right in life. We are not a gang."
ICP clothing and jewelry have been common since McNeil has attended LHS and she is unsure why it has become an issue this year, particularly in light of what she says are gross violations of the school's dress code by girls wearing revealing clothing that go uncorrected.
Male teachers are leery of saying anything to female students about clothing that exposes too much skin because they are worried about being accused of sexual harassment or inappropriate remarks, Finch said.
There are some contradictions in the policy when cheerleaders are allowed to wear skirts that, if not part of a uniform, would violate the dress code, making its enforcement something of a "gray area," Finch said.
McNeil scoffs at the notion male staff cannot enforce the dress code.
"You're an administrator. You should be able to find a way to respond," she said. "They have enough female hall monitors to control that."
Finch points to Dylan Debutts, charged by the Linn County Sheriff's Office with six counts of attempted murder last June in connection with a drive-by shooting in Albany, as a former student who wore a large Hatchet Man medallion while attending LHS.
Asked about the disciplinary record of students identified as Juggalos, Finch said he had not collected any data to determine if they get in trouble more often than other students.
Many of the students who identify themselves as Juggalos come from broken homes and rely on each other as a support group, McNeil said.
"I think a lot won't come back to school if they ban it," she said. "Some, all the clothes they have are Juggalo stuff. How are they going to afford to replace them?"
The school board took no action of the students' request to lift the ban at the Oct. 6 meeting, saying they needed more time to study the issue before voting.
ADDENDUM: So, what happened when the school board had more time? On Nov. 3, it voted to uphold the ban.