Commentary: When a Black Girl’s Science Project Goes Wrong

Kiera Wilmot is finding out the hard way that she’d been expected to be perfect.

Posted: 05/03/2013 02:17 PM EDT
Commentary: When a Black Girl’s Science Project Goes Wrong

Teenagers make mistakes. Be it car accidents or underage drinking — perhaps both at the same time — teenagers are bound to do foolish things from time to time as they make their way toward adulthood. The question is how adults and society should react to those mistakes.

Take, for instance, the recent case of Kiera Wilmot. Wilmot is a 16-year-old Black girl from Bartow, Florida, whose principal has called her “a good kid.” Though Wilmot was in many ways a model student, last month she found herself in a bit of trouble when she made what’s commonly known as a “works bomb” at her school. By mixing toilet bowl cleaner called The Works with some aluminum foil in a capped plastic bottle, anyone can make a small but not insignificant chemical reaction that will cause the bottle to explode. It’s a dangerous thing to do, but the ease with which one can create a works bomb has ensured that kids around the country can make them and post the results to YouTube, generally without consequence.

The main problem with Wilmot’s works bomb was that she made hers at school. Despite the fact that Wilmot’s little chemistry experiment caused no damage or injuries to anyone, Wilmot was immediately expelled from school. In an interview with the Miami New Times, a spokesperson from Wilmot’s school district said that Wilmot’s expulsion was mandated by the school’s code of conduct. What she did “violates Section 7.05 of the school's conduct code … which mandates expulsion for any ‘student in possession of a bomb (or) explosive device... while at a school (or) a school-sponsored activity... unless the material or device is being used as part of a legitimate school-related activity or science project conducted under the supervision of an instructor.’”

Expulsion is one thing, and Wilmot will be able to complete her schooling through an expulsion program. A different thing altogether is the fact that she’s also being charged with two felonies, thanks to the pressing of Assistant State Attorney Tammy Glotfelty. This from the arrest report:

I THEN CONTACTED ASSISTANT STATE ATTORNEY TAMMY GLOTFELTY VIA TELEPHONE. I ADVISED A.S.A GLOTFELTY OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE AND SHE ADVISED THIS OFFICER TO FILE THE CHARGES OF, POSSESSING OR DISCHARGING WEAPONS OR FIREARMS AT A SCHOOL SPONSORED EVENT OR ON SCHOOL PROPERTY F.S.S. 790.115 (1) AND MAKING, POSSESSING, THROWING, PROJECTING, PLACING, OR DISCHARGING ANY DESTRUCTIVE DEVICE F.S.S. 790.161 (A).

The overzealousness of Glotfelty is bad enough on its own — should a girl who was otherwise doing well in life have the book thrown at her over one stupid mistake? But it’s especially ugly when one considers that it was only a short time ago that the attorney showed lenience by choosing to not prosecute a white child who killed his younger brother with a BB gun. The Huffington Post’s Jesse Lava explains:

Glotfelty declared the case "a tragic accident." I don't doubt that it was. … But I do wonder how to make sense of a prosecutor who one week shows understandable compassion for a kid who made a terrible mistake and the next week insists on giving a teenager the harshest possible sanction for something that didn't harm anyone.

At this point, there really doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to why Wilmot is having her life ruined over a stupid thing she probably regretted as soon as she was done doing it, especially considering that other children who made even graver mistakes are getting off with slaps on the wrist. Her story is one that’s hurt the lives of many Black kids before her: The authorities were asking her to be perfect, and when she showed people that she was a normal teenager who screws up sometimes, they ruined her for it.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Courtesy of WTSP.com)

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