On Kiera Wilmot and Consequences

[Content Note: Racism; guns.]

Last week, 16-year-old Florida high school student Kiera Wilmot was arrested and charged with [video begins to play automatically at link] possession/discharge of a weapon on school property and discharging a destructive device after "mixing household chemicals in a tiny 8-ounce water bottle, causing the top to pop off, followed by billowing smoke in an small explosion." No one was hurt. Wilmot, an honors student student who has never been in trouble, was expelled.

There are a lot of problems with the way this case has been handled, not least of which, as Rania Khalek notes here, is that Wilmot, a black girl, has been charged with two felonies for a failed science experiment in which no one was harmed, while 13-year-old Taylor Richardson, a white boy, has not been charged by the same prosecutor for the accidental killing of his 10-year-old brother with a BB gun. Writes Khalek: "I agree with [Assistant State Attorney Tammy Glotfelty's] choice not to prosecute Taylor Richardson for what was clearly an accident. But her decision is telling when compared with the harsh treatment dished out to Kiera Wilmot, whose misguided science experiment caused no harm or damage to anyone or anything."

Amidst significant criticism for its decision to expel Wilmot, who was immediately forthcoming about what had happened, the Polk County School administration released a statement justifying the expulsion:
Anytime a student makes a bad choice it is disappointing to us. Unfortunately, the incident that occurred at Bartow High School yesterday was a serious breach of conduct. In order to maintain a safe and orderly learning environment, we simply must uphold our code of conduct rules. We urge our parents to join us in conveying the message that there are consequences to actions. We will not compromise the safety and security of our students and staff.
There are consequences to actions. Indeed. Let's talk about that. Specifically, let's talk about how no one seems especially concerned about the consequences of how Wilmot is being treated by her school and the prosecutor, who seem Very Concerned about the consequences of Wilmot's actions and not so concerned about the consequences of their own.

Wilmot's life has been thrown into utter disarray, and the long-term effects of expelling and charging her are a giant question mark—but it is a certainty that, should Wilmot be prosecuted as currently planned, the consequences to her life for a mistake, for an act that was not intended to harm and harmed no one, will be disproportionate to the act.

Wilmot's family's lives have been thrown into utter disarray, including the life of her twin sister, still attending the same school. "Someone asked her about it in class and she started crying and ran out." Consequences.

Her friends are in disbelief. Her classmates have not been made to feel safer, but now see that their lives can be ruined after one mistake. Consequences.

There are messages being conveyed about the value of a black girl doing science. Consequences.

These are consequences with which we're not meant to concern ourselves. Instead we are meant to shrug with resignation at the necessity of a "zero tolerance policy," which is the abdication of responsibility to engage critical thinking about context and consider nuance. The defense of "zero tolerance policies" with this line of bullshit about how tough decisions have to be made is an absurd façade. They are frequently, as in this case, a justification for cowardice to avoid making wise decisions that are harder to defend.

It is eminently reasonable that the school doesn't want kids doing potentially dangerous science experiments unsupervised on campus—but there is absolutely no reason why, given Wilmot's personal history and the fact that no one was harmed, there could not have been a conversation about consequences instead of sacrificing Wilmot's future.

Following Wilmot's experiment, the school could have held an assembly to talk about: 1. What happened; 2. How unsupervised chemical mixing can result in explosions that could potentially hurt someone; 3. How lucky we all are that no one got hurt; and 4. Moving forward, here are what the specific consequences will be if you engage in potentially dangerous science experiments, which is something we never anticipated until now, but, hey, we're all learning here together, so let's all move forward with a new understanding.

Of course, that would convey to young people in a school that they have the capacity to learn, no less that they have agency and can be trusted. Can't have that. Whatever would the consequences be?!

Support Kiera:

Change.org: State Attorney Jerry Hill: Drop charges against Kiera Wilmot.

ACLU: To Bartow Police Department and Polk County School Adminstrators: Please reinstate Kiera Wilmot as a student at Polk County School and drop all criminal charges against her immediately.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus