Saturday, May 4, 2013

Barely Human: Polk County, Florida's Tammy Glotfelty

Remember that episode of Saved by the Bell when Jessie Spano's intellectual curiosity got the best of her and an unauthorized science experiment landed her in court, defending herself against adult felony charges? No? I don't either. Would you believe it if it happened to Lisa Turtle? Still no? Then you're not Assistant District Attorney Tammy Glotfelty.

If you haven't heard of Kiera Wilmot you probably soon will. Here's the story.

Wilmot is a sixteen year old high school student in Polk County, FL. A good student with no disciplinary problems, she has the kind of scientific curiosity that MIT fights over. She also made a bad choice. She decided to conduct an impromptu science experiment on school grounds. By mixing toilet cleaner and aluminum foil in water bottle, she created a small explosion. The trick can be found on YouTube and has been the topic of reality shows along with what happens when you drop Mentos in Diet Coke.

It's a fun, harmless gag.

Twenty years ago it would have wound up on Nickelodeon or an afterschool special, ending with the kind of disciplinary action that teaches its audience a common life lesson. That's not the world we live in.

Wilmot was led out of school in handcuffs and now faces two felony charges, likely as an adult. What may be worse, Bartow High School's principal slapped her with an expulsion, forcing her to complete her high school career in an expulsion program, completely shattering any hope that Wilmot might be accepted to the kind of colleges that typically grant scholarships for this kind of scientific curiosity.

On paper, this might sound like part of our nation's growing paranoia. In the wake of the Boston bombings, it might even be an understandable, if misguided, overreaction. But that isn't the whole story. Kiera Wilmot is black, and the Polk County Sheriff's Department has done a fine job proving that Florida is still very much a part of the Old South.

Of course it's way too easy to make that generalization solely based on race. With schools banning dodgeball and peanut butter, it's not hard to imagine Jessie Spano being thrown in jail for anything remotely resembling a bomb.

However, any consideration was thrown out when, two days later, the same Assistant District Attorney decided not to prosecute a thirteen year old who accidentally shot and killed his brother. That was likely the right decision. After all, Taylor Richardson will forever have to live with this fact.

But why was the "boys will be boys" approach taken for an accident that resulted in a tragic death, and not employed after a harmless experiment blew up a water bottle? Why did Glotfelty cite the prestigious Roosevelt Academy in her decision not to prosecute Richardson, but not Wilmot's academic or disciplinary record at Bartow High School? One guess what color Richardson is.

Deciding to charge Wilmot as an adult is a reflection of a visceral double standard that lingers in our nation. Bartow High School's policy requires expulsion, but Polk County law doesn't require felony charges, and certainly doesn't require trying a sixteen year old child as an adult. These choices are entirely at the discretion of ADA Tammy Glotfelty and reflection of a racially hostile community itching to throw the book at any minority who steps out of line.

Join the Facebook page, sign the petition, and write the Polk County Sheriff's Department:
255 N Broadway Ave. Bartow, FL  33830
(863) 534-4800

1 comment:

  1. For what it's worth, my daughter attended the high school in question and I do agree with you; things were taken way out of proportion and I am glad the young lady is able to go back to school. I also agree that gun laws are far too lax.

    However, as a parent of a child with anaphylactic food allergies, you truly do not understand the severity of them.

    I know this because I used to think like you, and then my son had one bite of peanut butter. During an anaphylactic reaction, a child may have hives, swelling of lips and tongue, vomiting and their throat closes up-- if an epipen is not administered immediately they will die (and even then, an epipen does not save every person in anaphylaxis.)

    Thankfully my son's allergies are not as severe as others. He can be in the same room as another child. But for other children, simply being in a building with shared air systems can kill them. The only solution is to ban peanut products. We have not asked schools to ban peanuts--but they do take precautions (and my son carries an epipen with him at all time).

    I've heard all the arguments before but no child ever died from not eating peanut butter. Picky eater? Tough luck. The American Disability Act protects those with food allergies. Just as a person in a wheelchair cannot be denied access to a facility, a child with food allergies cannot be denied a public education. Is teaching our kids to be thoughtful and empathetic to others a bad lesson to teach? I think not.

    For more education on food allergies, please visit