Stafford, Virginia brings us a ridiculous story of a fourteen-year-old boy with autism who was taken away in handcuffs after attempting to win the hearts of classmates by dressing up in a banana suit and running across the field during halftime of a football game. Later released to his mother without charges, his high school principal settled on a punishment of ten days suspension while backing off her initial impulse to expel him.
Students rallied around him by wearing “Free Banana Man” t-shirts, which the principal immediately banned. That’s when the ACLU stepped in over the violation of freedom of speech. A flood of negative press ensued and compelled the school to apologize for the infringement of students’ civil rights and lift the remaining five days of Bryan “Banana Man” Thompson’s suspension.
However, Bryan is still on probation for the remaining five days and the principal has expressed concern that he will be a disruptive force at school since he has so many new friends and supporters.
A socially isolated teen suddenly having new admirers? The horror!!
Bryan’s mother is rightfully nervous about him being under the microscope upon his return.
The location of Stafford, Virginia rang a bell for me. It’s the town where Neli Latson, another teenager with Asperger’s, was racially profiled as he sat outside waiting for the public library to open. Neli remains in jail for assaulting an officer who suddenly threw him over the hood of a squad car and tried to cuff him after he wouldn’t tell him his name. His mother is still working feverishly to secure his release from prison.
I would be remiss not to mention the fact that both Neli and Bryan are African American, making for some unsettling coincidences in relation to unusually harsh punishments for minorities on the autism spectrum in Stafford.
Bryan’s mother suggested that Banana Man become the school mascot, as he brought so much joy to the crowd during his brief debut, but I doubt the principal will have the good sense or grace to allow it.