Meet Salecia Johnson. She is now about 7 or 8 years old and is already a violent criminal… but not really… not at all. However, last year when she was only 6 years-old, Salecia was treated like one. The Milledgeville, Georgia kindergartener at Creekside Elementary school was taught a valuable lesson after throwing a tantrum in school; That not even her innocent smile and nice display of southern manners can protect her from being put in a head-lock by the long arm of the law.
The story goes like this: young Salecia seemed to have been having a bad day and started having something that most parents with 6 year-olds probably know nothing about; a tantrum (hopefully you taste the sarcasm here). She began throwing books and toys around the classroom and even allegedly threw a shelf that hit her principle in the leg. So the school did the only logical thing in reaction to this extremely rare and abnormal behavior from a 6 year-old child… they called the police. The boys in blue served justice with a soda on the side quite literally when they handcuffed the toddler, drove her downtown like a statistic, and gave her a soda while she awaited a family member to pick her up. What statistic do you ask? This is of course the fact that the citizens of Georgia who look like her, aka the Black folk, make up 61.43% of Georgia’s total prison population though they are only 31% of the total state population. It seems as though the police were just employing a bit of preemptive action.
Next, I want you to meet Jmyha Rickman of Love Joy Elementary School in Alton, Illinois. Jmyha, the 8-year-old, is said to have a “history” of tantrums at school and one day the school had enough and decided to do their job and teach her a lesson. So like young Salecia, they threw a book at young Jmyha; only this book was the Book of the Law. She was handcuffed, placed in the backseat of a police car and driven to jail, where she was held for two hours. She even said the police didn’t allow her to put on her coat before being manhandled and taken into custody. Her guardian says the poor little girl had welts on her wrists from the cuffs.
People come to the defense of the school administrators and law enforcement officials for doing what they consider a “job well done.” They claim that in the states of mind that these two children were in were dangerous and put those around them at risk. I can’t help but feel like they’ve watched too many super hero movies and need to take some classes on how to manage toddlers. I wish a 6 year-old would scare me to the point that I have to call the police on they little self. To put it blatantly, in calling the police to control a 6 and 8 year-old’s temper tantrum, these school officials are mark busters who should really be facing the law.
As much as I wish I that I could say I don’t have anyone else for you to meet, Kiera Wilmot tapped me on the shoulder. The 16-year-old science enthusiast from Bartow High School in Bartow, Florida may find herself a convicted felon pretty soon after… after… well I’m not really sure why this is even happening. In late April, she was given a 4 page assignment by her teaching instructing the students to participate in scientific inquiry. Students had to design an experiment to answer a testable question of their choice. So with this, Kiera Wilmot put a project together based on suggestions by friends and after putting it together and bringing it to school to show the teacher, Wilmot was persuaded to first try it outside on school grounds. Kiera mixed some household chemicals in an 8 ounce water bottle under the belief that there would merely be some “smoke and fizzle” as described further by her attorney, Larry Hardaway. Well, what happened was a small popping sound like a fire cracker causing the top to burst off however none of this caused any damage or injuries to anyone and the bottle was still in tact. After the experiment went unexpected, Wilmot was taken into custody by a school officer and a police officer was called to the school. This officer said that he responded to the school “in reference to a destructive device weapons incident.” This means that the department was wrongfully notified of the nature of the incident. The embellished testimony by the school officials forced the police officer to call the State Attorney’s office, whom then advised him to file charges for “possession or discharging weapons or firearms at a school sponsored event or on school property; and making, possessing, throwing projectiles; placing or discharging any destructive device.” The full interview with Wilmot’s attorney can be found below.
Kiera Wilmot has NOT yet been charged and negotiations are underway with the State Attorney’s office. Her legal team is trying to avoid the necessity for the scholar to face trial however the State does have the option to have her tried as an adult. Currently her legal team has worked out a deal with the school district to send her to an alternative school for the remaining 16 days of the school year. The most significant detail to be ironed out is the question of whether these charges and injustices can be expunged from her record. The school issued a statement stressing that they believe “kids should learn that there are consequences to their actions.” What was the action though and who should really be held accountable? Her teachers say they had no idea what her project was, but this is pretty alarming. Why was there no review of the students’ experiments, consultation with the teachers to plan and implement experiments, and a final check during the day of the presentations? This was a case of neglect on Bartow High School and rather than face the responsibility they threw a young woman and her reputation under the bus.
There is something scary about these three stories and it is the simple fact that neither of them are extraordinary cases. I’m sure any and every one who reads this has (or knows someone who has) either thrown a tantrum or conducted an eyebrow raising science experiment. I can think back to my middle school science project looking at which substances could dissolve a jolly rancher the fastest. I remember the bleach cup starting to boil and raising its temperature at an alarming rate. If done in a water bottle instead of a cup, an explosion would’ve quickly followed. The difference though? My teacher told me that! No, Ms. Jones wasn’t the best of middle school science teachers but at least she told me that. Creativity has now become criminal and experimentation has now become punishable by law making the infamous school-to-prison pipeline all the more narrow. Now, not only are Black males going to be an extremely rare breed in the nation’s universities, so will the Black women (who are already rare enough). Bartow High School could care less that the felony charges WILL significantly impact her continued educational opportunities, getting a job, and countless other aspects of building a healthy life.
Huey Newton in his essay The Correct Handling of a Revolution, states that “There are three ways one can learn: through study, observation, and experience. Since the Black community is composed basically of activists, observation of or participation in activity are the principle ways the community learns. To learn by studying is good, but to learn by experience is better.” These kids, especially the younger two are in a very vulnerable state, are cultivating their identities and searching for their place in society. To expose them to such horrific and faith-breaking experiences at such a young age is inhumane and inhuman. My child development people can better attest to this fact, but at the ages of 6 and 8 years old, children are in a critical state of social development. They are figuring right from wrong and their place between the two. To now connect school, a place of education and guiding discipline, with the law, something of harsh discipline and cruel injustices, is to hinder their ability to separate the two. Of course as shown by their interviews, these young girls’ families are surely working to prevent this from happening; but what about the kids whom this happen to elsewhere that don’t get any attention? Those whom slip through the cracks and don’t have such strong foundations to catch their fall? No matter how much support the child has though, it doesn’t change the fact that these children know what that car ride downtown feels like while the handcuffs scrape against your wrist. They are trained to already distrust and resent the justice system that traumatized and attempted to make an example out of them. How do you think their perceptions of the law, education, and themselves have changed? Who’s responsible for the potential consequences that these events can have on their futures?
Illustration from the Youth Justice Coalition
The term “school-to-prison pipeline” isn’t melodramatic, as demonstrated in these three cases, it is descriptive of a sad reality. Rather than representing a place of growth, innocence, optimism, and social exploration, the school represents punishment, imprisonment, and destruction of creativity. I stress that these cases are not as unique as they may seem. Though perhaps slightly more extreme than what we see in schools everyday, they may be the spark needed to ignite the fire to get the issue the attention it deserves. The eyes need to open to the fact that crime is becoming more and more racialized. Gender, age, and other factors matter less and less when discussing the attack on Black people and those impoverished groups in the United States of America. This is a fact that I learned the hard way as a 15 year-old sophmore at King/Drew High School. In a case of alleged mistaken identity that was blatant racial profiling, I was accused of stealing a car and evading arrest while on my way to the Inglewood library. I didn’t have a computer so to print my final math project for class the next day I ran out my grandma’s door with ten minutes till closing. As quickly as I came out the side door, I was on the ground with 8 white boys in black with the metal pointed right at my head. Hand-cuffed and pockets emptied onto the hood off the cop car, I stand confused and mesmerized that this was happening to the kid with “King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science” hoodie on. After confirming that I neither was light-skinned, had a pony tail, or was in possession of a car, I was told simply “you’re free to go.” Now without an apology or anything, I find that the library is now closed and I drop a letter grade in my math class due to late submission and the seeds of Wisdom From The Field were planted (but that’s another story). The very institutions that are supposed to be guiding and cultivating the next generation of US citizens are merely acting as interviewers for the criminal justice system… disgusting and disgraceful.
I draw connections between the portrayal of Kiera Wilmot’s incident as terroristic in nature to the recent addition of Assata Shakur to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List. Over 30 years later, in a day and age where many believe racism and it’s backlash was behind us, we see its fundamental injustices being upheld and enforced. During a time when the nation face amazing debt and starving educational systems, they raise the bounty on a presumed innocent freedom fighter in exile to $2 Million. During a time when crime in Los Angeles is arguably on the rise, the LAPD dispenses 79 officers to break up a graduation party thrown by the Black students at the University of Southern California. The time to take the shades of freedom off our eyes and see that, for lack of a better term, we are under attack and we need to stand up, stand together, and pick up where we left off.
#HandsOffAssata #FreeMumia #USCStandUp
On a MOVE!
UPDATE: Kiera Wilmot will not be charged in the case of the science experiment gone astray. More here:
USC Student Party Raided By Police -
Salecia Johnson’s Story:
Jmyha Rickman’s Story:
Kiera Wilmot’s Story: