Mississippi Family Members Facing Jail Time for Cheering at Graduation, What’s Next?

I'm supposed to believe yelling "You did it, baby!" at a high school graduation ceremony necessitates hundreds of dollars in fines and possible jail time? Give me a break. In fact, give all of your breaks to me.

I'm supposed to believe yelling "You did it, baby!" at a high school graduation ceremony necessitates hundreds of dollars in fines and possible jail time? Give me a break. In fact, give all of your breaks to me. Shutterstock

Henry Walker of Senatobia, Mississippi, is facing jail time because he had the audacity to break decorum and cheer at a high school graduation ceremony. When his relative, 18-year-old Lanarcia Walker, walked across the stage to accept her diploma, he yelled out “You did it, baby!” and waved a towel.

Audience members at the ceremony had been instructed to hold their applause until the end of the ceremony or else they would be asked to leave, but Walker couldn’t help himself. He and three other people who dared to cheer for their graduating relative were ejected from the ceremony.

And that was the end of that—or so the Walker family thought.

A week later the school district’s superintendent, Jay Foster, presumably after fainting dead away at the impropriety of it all, charged Walker and two others with “disturbing the peace.” (Foster could not identify the fourth suspect.) And because Foster really wanted to put some stank on it, he got local police to issue warrants for their arrest.

Henry Walker faces a $500 fine and related court costs, which Lanarcia’s mom, Linda Walker, says the family cannot afford to pay, and might be thrown in jail. As the local news reports:

Senatobia Municipal School District Superintendent Jay Foster filed ‘disturbing the peace’ charges against the people who yelled at graduation.

Officers issued warrants for their arrests with a possible $500 bond.

“It’s crazy,” Henry Walker said. “The fact that I might have to bond out of jail, pay court costs, or a $500 fine for expressing my love, it’s ridiculous man. It’s ridiculous.”

Superintendent Foster said the charges were far from ridiculous.

While Foster declined an on-camera interview with WREG, he said he’s determined to have order at graduation ceremonies.

“Okay,” Miller said. “I can understand they can escort me out of the graduation, but to say they going to put me in jail for it. What else are they allowed to do?”

“Why assign papers on someone? We don’t have money for anything like that,” Linda Walker said.

Apparently Foster, according to the Clarion-Ledger, didn’t want anybody to have to pay any money; he just wanted to teach the Walkers a lesson:

“I did go and sign papers on them for disturbing the peace,” [Foster] said. “My point is not to have somebody have to pay money, but I want them to know there are consequences for their behavior, and I want us to have a dignified service.”

Foster said he didn’t think just removing them from the service would make the point. He said some of them were actually moving toward the door as they made noise. In addition, Foster said, it seemed as if they did it in defiance of the requests for respect as opposed to simply wanting to celebrate their graduates.

First of all, if you don’t want somebody to pay money, then don’t have them charged with a crime for which the punishment is quite literally having to pay money. Did Foster think he would press charges and the cops would simply give the Walkers a stern talking-to?

Second of all, Henry Walker yelled a total of four words. Seriously—watch the video.

I’m supposed to believe that he did this in defiance of requests for respect as opposed to in heartfelt celebration of the fact that his relative just graduated high school, a feat which only 69 percent of Black kids in Mississippi accomplish? Yelling “You did it, baby!” was his act of defiance? Give me a break. In fact, give all of your breaks to me.

Look, I get it. Not everyone celebrates joyous occasions the way a lot of Black people do. If you like somber affairs, stay away from most Black churches. And definitely don’t ever go see a Tyler Perry movie at the AMC Magic Johnson theater on Crenshaw in Los Angeles.

Maybe you’re the type of person who likes decorum and etiquette at all times. You’ve never broken a rule. You’ve never questioned authority. You’re one of those people who has never whispered a few words in a library, or shouted something in a movie theater because you thought it would get a laugh, or accidentally clapped at the wrong time at the symphony. You’ve never expressed more than the appropriate amount of exuberance. Maybe all the high school graduations you attended were somber funereal affairs.

You sound kind of boring, actually, but who am I to judge? You do you.

But can we at least agree that issuing arrest warrants to people who said a handful of words at a graduation ceremony is not exactly a proportional response?

Then again, maybe you think people who carry on conversations in libraries should be tased, thrown out of the library, and then tossed into jail for good measure. (I’m with you through the “should be tased” stage, but tossed into jail? That seems excessive.)

But if you’re not some kind of authoritarian despot, please sign this Color of Change petition and demand that these charges be dropped. The list of activities that can land Black people in hot water with the police is already long enough.

Let’s not add “Cheering while Black” to it.

The family members who were served are expected in court on Tuesday, June 9.