Michigan man, 18, barred from voting with ‘Black Lives Matter’ T-shirt showing

The front of the t-shirt worn by Jack Lawson. Photo by Charlotte Hoppen.
The front of the t-shirt worn by Jack Lawson. Photo by Charlotte Hoppen.

By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker

At 18, Jack Lawson was elated to vote for the first time.

But when the Seaholm High School senior arrived at his Birmingham precinct to vote with his father in the March 18 presidential primary election, a precinct worker threatened to call the police because he was wearing a Birmingham Black Student Union t-shirt that contained the words “Black Lives Matter.”

Lawson was told to leave unless he removed or covered the shirt. If he didn’t comply, police would be called to remove him, the precinct chairman told the Seaholm Highlander in a story that is an impressive example of strong student journalism.

The precinct worker warned the first-time voter, “‘I’m serious, if you don’t take that off I’m calling the police or if you don’t change I’m calling the police,’” Lawson recalled.  

Lawson, who is white, was conflicted. He didn’t think a shirt representing tolerance could be considered a political statement that violates state voting laws.

“At first I was angry and I wanted to resist,” Lawson said. “I generally didn’t feel I was violating any law, but at the same time this was my first time voting.”

Not wanting to miss his first opportunity to vote, Lawson borrowed his father’s jacket and covered his t-shirt.

The precinct chairman, who wasn’t named in the story, told the Seaholm Highlander that “Black Lives Matters” amounts to a political statement.

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“There is nothing wrong with the shirt to wear it out in public,” the precinct chairman said. “It’s just because it had the political slogans and the campaigning slogans, or things that could be misconstrued that way that was the only issue.”

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Lawson told Motor City Muckraker that he won’t be deterred from voting in the future.

“It was my first voting experience so I didn’t know what to expect, but I definitely didn’t expect to be treated the way I was,” Lawson said. “I don’t feel at all deterred from voting again and plan on returning to vote in November.”

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.