I picked up this photograph while antiquing last year. I didn’t recognize the young man’s name or know of his legal case. I was just struck by the photograph. Later, I did some research to educate myself about what happened to him. Predictably, it was another miscarriage of justice. You can read more about his story here and here
Category: Juvenile Justice
I first learned of Kiera Wilmot’s story last night via a blog post by Kyle Munzenrieder. Here is how he recounted the incident in question:
Kiera Wilmot got good grades and had a perfect behavior record. She wasn’t the kind of kid you’d expect to find hauled away in handcuffs and expelled from school, but that’s exactly what happened after an attempt at a science project went horribly wrong.
On 7 a.m. on Monday, the 16 year-old mixed some common household chemicals in a small 8 oz water bottle on the grounds of Bartow High School in Bartow, Florida. The reaction caused a small explosion that caused the top to pop up and produced some smoke. No one was hurt and no damage was caused.
Prosecutors have charged her with several felonies and are considering potentially trying her as an adult. Read more from the post here.
I was outraged last night but then had to run to the police station overnight to address an issue that came up with a young person. I spent part of this morning searching for more information about the case. WTSP in Florida filed this report about the incident. The principal said that this was not a malicious act:
“She made a bad choice. Honestly, I don’t think she meant to ever hurt anyone. She wanted to see what would happen [when the chemicals mixed] and was shocked by what it did. Her mother is shocked too.”
For those who want to speak up and take action to rectify this outrage. You can do a few concrete things:
1. Someone has launched a petition demanding that charges be dropped against Kiera and that she be re-instated at her school. You can sign here.
2. You can contact FL State Attorney Jerry Hill and tell him not to prosecute 16 year old Kiera Wilmot as an adult. Call him at 863-534-4800 or email his office here.
I personally called the office this afternoon and spoke to a woman who said that the case is still under investigation and that the office would have no comments at this time. I let them know that the entire country is watching to see what they will do. I expressed my outrage that they would consider charging her with felonies and as an adult.
3. You can also call the school district’s Superintendent: Dr. John Stewart –(863) 534-0521 to ask that he intervene on Kiera’s behalf and ask law enforcement to drop the charges. Ask him to re-instate Kiera in school.
4. To learn more about the increasing criminalization of black girls at school, read Monique Morris report.
5. For those who are interested in reading in greater depth about the criminalization of black & brown youth in the U.S., I put together a short bibliography of articles to read a couple of years ago here.
There are some updates to the story that can be found here.
On Sunday, I awoke to the news that some parents of Walter Payton Prep High School students refused to allow their children to play a night game on the campus of Gwendolyn Brooks Prep High.
You have to live in Chicago to fully appreciate this drama. Payton and Brooks are both selective enrollment public high schools in the city. Both are considered “good” schools. Payton is on the Northside of Chicago while Brooks is located on the Southside. Rich white parents use their clout to get their children admitted to Payton but not to Brooks. In case you didn’t know, Chicago is still the most segregated city in the United States. This also extends to our schools, of course.
One can hardly blame the parents of Payton students who were afraid that their children might succumb to violence on the dreaded “Southside.” Over the past three to four years, media accounts have portrayed Chicago as the wild, wild, West. Scarcely a day goes by that there isn’t another account of rampant “senseless” violence in the city.
It’s gotten so bad that the former police superintendent, Jody Weis, felt the need to proclaim during a news conference in 2010: “We are not Chi-raq. We are Chicago.”
This brings me to the main issue that I wanted to address today.
I wrote about the fact that Chicago students were organizing a boycott on April 24th. Yesterday, students from various Chicago high schools boycotted the second day of standardized testing (PSAE). They were protesting the role of testing as a factor in school closing decisions. Instead of going to school, students showed up at CPS Headquarters to make themselves heard.
Robeson High School student, Brian Stirgis, explained the reason for the protest: “We’re under-resourced, over-tested, and we’re fed up with the policies that are put in place by CPS officials.”
Laura McCauley reporting for Common Dreams wrote that “Over 300 students from over 25 different Chicago public schools ” boycotted PSAE testing yesterday.
Last month, I spent the day at a high school on the West side of Chicago. I was there with my friend the talented Debbie Southorn. Our goal was to document how this particular urban school manages student safety. Debbie is a filmmaker and an organizer. We are both keenly interested in how to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. After the Newtown massacre, both of us were concerned that the response might be to add more cops to our schools.
Immediately after President Obama unveiled his gun reform proposals in January, I got to work organizing against more police in schools. With several other people, I launched the Yes To Counselors, No To Cops Campaign. In just a few short weeks, our loose coalition of individuals and groups hosted two community meetings, created a website, launched a petition, letter and postcard campaign, organized a call-in day to our Senators, and more. As part of this work, we also wanted to demonstrate that there are urban schools serving black and brown youth that do not rely on harsh disciplinary policies or law enforcement to achieve their goal of ensuring a safe educational environment. I enlisted Debbie to help and the result is the short film that you can watch below. I have also written a few words about the school as well.
Please share the video with others who might be interested in learning about how we can keep students safe without relying on law enforcement and harsh disciplinary policies. In Debbie’s words, NLCP “cultivate[s] school safety and peace culture in really transformative ways! (Spoiler alert – without cops or metal detectors, with counselors, nonviolence training and political education).”
I am indebted to Debbie for all of her hard work on this film. She filmed and edited it in record time. I think that the film is wonderful and I am grateful beyond all words. Thank you Debbie. Thanks also to our friends at Free Spirit Media for sharing some of their archival footage with us. Finally, a huge debt of gratitude to the administration, staff, teachers, and most importantly students at NLCP for welcoming us (on short notice) and letting us share your story.
Once again, the terrifically talented Sarah Jane Rhee was present with her camera at Wednesday’s Chicago School Closings Protest. I have selected some of the photographs that illustrate the message that we need to fund schools rather than prisons/jails.
Fund Schools Not Jails!
March 27, 2013
Erica R. Meiners is a Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Education at Northeastern Illinois University. She is the author of Right to be hostile: schools, prisons and the making of public enemies (2009) and articles exploring the school to prison pipeline. She is a member of her labor union, University Professionals of Illinois, and actively involved in a number of non-traditional and popular education projects including an anti-prison teaching collective (Chicago PIC Teaching Collective) and the Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education (CReATE) and she is currently teaching classes at Stateville Prison and St. Leonard’s Adult High School.
Thousands of people converged downtown today to speak back to Chicago’s unelected school board against the proposed closure of fifty-four public schools in Black neighborhoods. Amidst the colorful and pithy signs held up by teachers, parents, and young people my favorite (topping even the signs from the fall 2012 Chicago Teacher’s Union strike proclaiming Rahm loves Nickelback) was Fund Schools Not Jails!
While it might appear that the struggle to shutter our prisons, to decriminalize marijuana and sex work, or to release people from prison early on “good time,” is disconnected from the fight to keep open and fully funded high quality neighborhood schools in Black communities, the two are intimately linked.
Read more »
I love radio. In fact, I prefer listening to the radio than watching television. Over the years some of the best reporting about the prison industrial complex has taken place in radio. Below is a list of some excellent radio stories about prisons that I wanted to share:
According to the 1880 United States Census, 99% of the nation’s “insane persons” lived at home or in asylums. Only a few hundred were in jail. That was the practice in the U.S. for the next century: Mentally ill people who couldn’t cope on their own were confined in institutions. Most never had the chance to live freely in society—or to get in trouble there.
That has changed. Last year the U.S. Justice Department said 280,000 people with serious mental illnesses were in jail or prison—more than four times the number in state mental hospitals. American RadioWorks explores why.
Prison Diaries takes place inside two correctional facilities: Polk Youth Institution in Butner, NC and the Rhode Island Training School (for juveniles) in Cranston, RI. More than 245 hours of raw tape have been edited into five half-hour documentaries, produced by Joe Richman and Wendy Dorr of Radio Diaries.
Tossing Away the Keys
Recorded in Angola, Louisianna.
Premiered April 29, 1990, on Weekend All Things Considered.
The Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola Prison, is a sprawling old plantation on the Mississippi River. It was named, long ago, for the birthplace of the slaves who were brought here to work the land.
Now, Angola holds more than five-thousand prisoners, mostly African Americans. It still has the look of another time: long straight lines of black men march to work along the levees with shovels over their shoulders. They are trailed by guards on horseback, shotguns resting in their laps.
It used to be that a life sentence in Louisiana meant a maximum of ten years and six months behind bars. But, in the 1970s, the state’s politicians changed the definition. A life sentence in Louisiana now means just that. Unless they’re pardoned by the Governor, inmates today know they will never again see the outside world — that they will die inside Angola prison. Tossing Away the Keys is their story.
Witness to an Execution
Producer: David Isay with Wilbert Rideau and Ron Wikberg / Mix engineer: Anna Maria deFrietas / Photograph by Harvey Wang.
Premiered October 20, 2000, on All Things Considered.
Witness to an Execution tells the stories of the men and women involved with the execution of deathrow inmates at the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas. Narrated by Warden Jim Willett, who oversees all Texas executions, Witness to an Execution documents, in minute-by-minute detail, the process of carrying out an execution by lethal injection. Most of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees interviewed have witnessed over one hundred inmates be put to death. One-third of all executions in the US have taken place in Texas, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977.
The voices in Witness to an Execution tell a rare story. Major Kenneth Dean, a member of the “tie-down” team, describes the act of walking an inmate from his cell to the death chamber. Jim Brazzil, a death house chaplain who has witnessed 114 executions, remembers inmates’ last words to him. Former corrections officer Fred Allen discusses his own mental breakdown, caused, he says, by participating in one too many executions.
Witness to an Execution won a Peabody Award in 2000.
Producers: Stacy Abramson and David Isay / Production Assistant: David Miller / Narrator: Jim Willett / Editor: Gary Covino / Supervising engineer: Caryl Wheeler / Music: Bob Mellman / Music Coordinator: Henry Sapoznik / Executive Producer for All Things Considered: Ellen Weiss / Special thanks to: Larry Fitzgerald, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice / Photography: Andrew Lichtenstein/Open Society Institute. / Funding provided by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Open Society Institute.