As the tale of Kiera Wilmot — the Bartow, Florida student expelled and charged with two felonies over a science project gone wrong — went viral yesterday, a wide movement to support the 16-year-old blossomed from blogs to radio shows to Change.org petitions. Best of all, though, has been a Twitter campaign by scientists and science fans with a simple premise: writing about the craziest stuff they’ve blown up over the years, all in the name of science.
The difference, of course, is that they were congratulated on their curiosity or slapped on the wrist, not hit with life-altering felonies.
I don’t have twitter, but I bet you do – please let everyone you know in your twitterverse they can #KieraWilmot and show their support.
I want to address something that I keep seeing popping up on commentary about this case everywhere. There are some who are (thank goodness) not in agreement with the criminal charges, but they have issue with what Kiera did being called a science experiment. That she was simply a random kid trying out something she’d seen on youtube. Granted that might be what she was doing, but Kiera is no random kid.
She gets good grades. She has a perfect behavior record.
I want you to know how difficult and unreal that is for a Black girl, and especially in the schools she has been attending in the area where she lives. Especially the perfect behavior record, when kids of color, and now increasingly Black female students are targeted, and punished severely for the smallest infractions. She made it through to 16 years of age with a perfect record. She is not some random kid.
What she did was no prank. She would have ran away when – and/or much more likely before – being approached by the authority figure if she was pranking. Instead, She stayed where she was. She answered questions truthfully and explained what she was doing.
There is a copy of the police report somewhere that explains in detail her actions, behavior, and how she conducted herself during the questioning. I couldn’t read all of it, the print was too horrendous for these fading eyes, but I’m sure if you Utilizer Le Google you’ll find it and can read it for yourself.
DN Lee who blogs over at Scientific American can better articulate what I’m trying to get across.
I also want to touch upon these Zero Tolerance policies that are far too prevalent in our public schools these days. In my earlier post I broke down the school code that she supposedly broke that lead to her being kicked out of school. I don’t think she broke that code. And even if she did, the punishment for breaking it, is expulsion, not being clapped in irons, dragged off to juvie and tried as an adult on felony charges.
Hence my support for the change.org petition urging for the felonies to be dropped. That to me is the most important thing that needs to be handled right now. We can worry about school codes and expulsion later. Let me tell you why.
Since she is being tried as an adult, I’m going to guess that her records will not be sealed. I got myself arrested for protesting Apartheid when I was around her age. Because I was underage, still legally a child, the record of my arrest was sealed, and I could later on truthfully state on job applications etc that no I have never been arrested, charged etc.
No such thing for Kiera.
Let me tell you what happens to people who have a felony conviction on their record.
In many parts of the United States, a convicted felon can face long-term legal consequences persisting after the end of their imprisonment. The status and designation as a “convicted felon” is considered permanent, and is not extinguished upon sentence completion even if parole, probation or early release was given.
- Disenfranchisement – that means you are prohibited from voting – (which is expressly permitted by the Fourteenth Amendment, as noted by the Supreme Court)
- Exclusion from obtaining certain licenses, such as a visa, or professional licenses required in order to legally operate (making some vocations off-limits to felons)
- Exclusion from purchase and possession of firearms, ammunition and body armor
- Ineligibility for serving on a jury
- Ineligibility for government assistance or welfare, including being barred from federally funded housing
- Deportation (if the criminal is not a citizen)
Additionally, many job applications and rental applications ask about felony history. This is because most bonding companies will not issue bonds to convicted felons, which effectively bars them from certain jobs. Additionally, most landlords will not rent to convicted felons due to the risk of legal liability if the renter commits another crime.
It is legal to discriminate against felons in hiring decisions as well as the decision to rent housing to a person, so felons can face barriers to finding both jobs and housing.
Now, let’s say that Kiera ends up having to go to court and let’s say either her case gets dropped, and/or she is found not guilty of those felonies she is charged with.
I have questions. Does her record get cleared? Does the fact she was charged with felonies/as an adult and went to trial still stay on her record? Does she have to disclose that information – jobs, housing etc. – even though she has been cleared of those charges?
How much damage to this young girl’s future has already been done?
That is why I am so absolutely upset. The best case scenario outcome in my opinion would be not only the charges dropped, but that whole charged as an adult thing be back pedaled so her records can be sealed like mine were.
So she can go on ahead with her future intact.
Zero Tolerance Policies mean that when a student breaks a school code, nobody does any thinking. The background, records, past behavior, grades and GPA of the student are not even taken into account. The intent behind the actions are not taken into account. There is this robotic and heinous We Must Abide By The Letter Of The Law bullshit that ensues and you end up snuffing out the chances of a child going on to contribute to her society, and become the best person she can be.
I’ve been trying to tone down my cussing up here on my blog but yeah I said it, bullshit. Most people in positions of judgement on others never take the letter of the law at face value alone. They take things case by case, take all aspects into consideration before pressing charges and passing sentencing.
That we sidestep these basic modes of seeking justice when it comes to our CHILDREN makes me physically ill. The drug dealer up next on the docket at your local court house gets more consideration than this child did. iCan’t EVEN.
I just came home from my own time sitting in front of a judge. My lawyer said unofficially that I won my case. (I won’t believe it tho, till I am holding the letter he said would sent to me confirming). I was in that room for almost two hours. If that judge had just taken me at face value I don’t think I would have won out.
It just so happens that I am in the midst of a spate of “good days”. That means I am functional. I could handle going out of doors. I could drive myself to the hearing. I could articulate well, and answer questions ok with minimum confusion. (though I did cry in frustration at one point, because well – nevmind it was a THING and found myself crying). I didn’t have a panic attack or pass out. (Tho I admit my hand tremors were off the scale). I was reasonably put together and my personal hygiene while probably not on point, was passable.
With my illness I could very well have shown up there the quivering mess that I sometimes – far too often – am. But the judge took into consideration all aspects of my case. The information and statements on my health and care from my doctors, what medications I’m on, the results of some verifying questions he asked me, and my own written testimony and information and details about how my illness affects my everyday life.
So let us get some of that same consideration for Kiera Wilmot. I really hope my best case scenario happens for her. If you know more on the legal questions I raised here, please please reply in comments and let me know.