Over the weekend, hip-hot artist Jasiri X posted this image on his twitter feed. It’s taken from the front page of the New York Daily News’ website. Note the screaming headline and the sympathetic caption: “Accused killer Dylann Roof had one chance at a stable family life — and his abusive dad ruined it for…
Kids will be kids … unless we think they’re terrorists. Then they’re definitely terrorists.
I’m sure many of you have heard of Kiera Wilmot by now; she’s the 16-year-old high school student from Florida who was expelled and subsequently arrested on Tuesday for performing an unsupervised chemistry experiment that resulted in a small explosion. The charges?
Violating Section 7.05 of the Polk County School District’s Code of Conduct, which mandates that any “student in possession of a bomb (or) explosive device . . . while at a school (or) a school-sponsored activity” will automatically be expelled.
F.S.S. 790.115 (1): Possessing or discharging weapons or firearms at a school-sponsored event or school property AND F.S.S. 790.161 (A) Making, possessing, throwing, projecting, placing, or discharging any destructive device, for which she will be tried as an adult.
That’s right, folks … Ms. Wilmot, a student who earns good marks and has no history of disciplinary behavior, a student who’s experiment-gone-awry is so banal that it’s been employed as a comedic trope in a host of teen films across multiple decades, has been accused of being an aspiring bomb maker.
A cursory examination of the incident reveals that the charges are ludicrous, of course. Even the school’s principal appears to agree, at least on the surface. “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.”
Yet, the Polk County School Board is refusing to back down, releasing the following statement that same day:
“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.”
It’s hard not to argue that the severity of the school’s response to what happened isn’t racially motivated given that Ms. Wilmot is black. “I worry about urban kids who don’t tenxd to have access to social capital that advocates for them and gives them a chance after stupid mistakes … Most parents of Black and Brown kids already worry enough that their children risk arrest or harm for walking around in hoodies. Now the same antics that happen at the Maker Faire can get your kid handcuffed,” wrote author DN Lee in an op-ed for Scientific American responding to the incident. She’s right, of course: students of color definitely have a harder time in American educational institutions than white students. But given what happened not twenty-four hours later to Cameron D’Ambrosio of Methuen, Massachusetts, I’m not so sure.
On Wednesday, 18-year-old D’Ambrosio was arrested for allegedly making terroristic threats in a rap song he distributed via text and social media that day. “Killa” Cam — who’s only crime at this point is being a goofy suburban white kid with delusions of hip-hop grandeur — is currently being held on one million dollar bail, and, if convicted, faces up to twenty years in prison.
Yes, you read that right. ONE MILLION in bail. TWENTY YEARS in prison. Excessive much?
D’Ambrosio has been charged with violating Massachusetts General Law chapter 269, section 14, which prohibits the communication of a threat regarding specific weapons like firearms, chemical munitions or other explosives. According to a report on Raw Story, “the state law’s definition of a threat holds that the statement must indicate a weapon capable of causing serious harm or property damage will be used against a specific person or at a specific location.” But given the lack of clarity in the song’s content, which apparently makes vague references to the White House and the Boston Marathon bombing, there is doubt that the statute is being applied correctly.
Consider the following statement, made by Methuen Police Chief Joe Solomon in the Massachusetts publication the Valley Patriot: “I do want to make clear he did not make a specific threat against the school or any particular individuals but he did threaten to kill a bunch of people and specifically mentioned the Boston Marathon and the White House. The threat was disturbing enough for us to act and I think our officers did the right thing.”
Gawker’s response hit the nail on the head, of course: “Acting is one thing, bringing a hooky-playing high-schooler in for questioning to evaluate the seriousness of the threat is another. But arresting the kid, setting his bail at one million dollars, and charging him with terroristic threats? Holy shit.”
A search of D’Ambrosio’s house turned up little to support the terrorism claim, other than a “disturbing satanic photo posted as well as a photo of himself on a ‘Wanted Poster’ that reads ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’,” according to the Valley Patriot. Well, if that’s enough to brand you a terrorist, they should have locked me up back in high school. The Patriot goes on to state that “a quick perusal of his Facebook page shows D’Ambrosio’s unusual interest in gangs, violence and a criminal lifestyle,” yet Gawker reports that his Facebook page “also shows an ‘unusual interest’ in the Pixar movie Monsters University, Maui Wowi Hawaiian Coffee & Smoothies, and Adalia Rose, the six-year-old Texas girl with the early aging disease Progeria.” In short, it’s a typical Facebook page of your average goofy, suburban white kid with delusions of hip-hop grandeur. He’s a lot of things, but he’s no terrorist.
This is the school-to-prison pipeline run amok, under the auspices of “fighting terror”. There has been a disturbing trend in recent years of criminally charging children with behavioral problems, rather than working with them to ensure that they get the help they need. Now that’s taken an even more sinister turn.
What do these two cases have in common? Both Wilmot and D’Ambrosio are right around the same age as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old suspect currently in custody for his alleged role in the bombing of the Boston Marathon, the most high-profile terror attack on American soil since 9/11. In the post-bombing terror paradigm, the fact that neither of these kids have remotely the same background as Tsarnaev, a somewhat troubled Chechnyan immigrant who’s older brother had previously been investigated by U.S. intelligence for possible extremist ties, is irrelevant. Rather, it’s more important to engage in knee-jerk national security theatre, in order to appear tough on terror and satiate people’s rampant paranoia. It’s the same twisted logic that demands armed teachers and increased police presence on school campuses, as if all of these things will somehow solve the problem of mass shooters and disaffected youth in America, and our children’s lives and futures are slowly being ruined as a result. A free, comprehensive public education is one of the most radical ideas ever implemented in the United States, but when schools become compounds, and students become potential criminals in the eyes of the faculty, public education has failed them, and it has failed us.
The purpose of terrorism is to sow fear and despair to achieve a political end. If America has reached a point where we’re prepared to imprison our nation’s children in response to their curiosity and desire for self-expression, then guess what? The terrorists have won. We’re just too stubborn to admit it, much like your average teenager.
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