Dr. Watkins post focuses on the race of Williams-Bolar, but it is obvious that class is inseparable in this case. (Though the fact most of the poor in this country are people of color keeps race relevant to the discussion.)
When I read about this case, a few thoughts went through my mind. First, it’s clear that the court is trying to make Kelley Williams-Bolar into an example. Even the judge in the case, Patricia Cosgrove, said that her sentence was appropriate ''so that others who think they might defraud the school system perhaps will think twice.''At the end of the day this woman broke the law so I understand the need to hold her accountable. The amount of other parents breaking similar laws doesn't really matter in that regard. But what I don't understand is why this is a felony. Would probation and a misdemeanor charge not have sufficed? Williams-Bolar's father was already paying taxes so the $30,000 dollars Williams-Bolar is said to owe also seems vastly inappropriate.
Secondly, it’s interesting how courts find it convenient to make someone into an example when they happen to be poor and black. I’d love to see how they prosecute wealthy white women who commit the same offense. Oh, I forgot: Most wealthy white women don’t have to send their kids to the schools located near the projects.
Third, I’m not sure why the court is treating this law-abiding mom like a thug who ran into a building with a shotgun and robbed the district of $30,000. Instead, they could simply subtract the amount it costs for her kids to go to the second school from the amount that would be spent for them to attend the first one. I’m sure the difference would still be substantial, since American educational apartheid dictates that schools in poorer neighborhoods are of significantly less quality than other schools. The racial divisions within American schools are nothing less than a blatant and consistent human rights violation and should certainly be treated as such.
A final interesting blow by Judge Cosgrove that reflects the experience of marginalized African Americans in the criminal justice system relates to Williams-Bolar’s quest to obtain a teaching degree. The single mother was in school studying to become a teacher so that she could create a better life for her girls. But that won’t happen for her family now, given that the judge has all but shut the door on her chance to fulfill her dream:
''Because of the felony conviction, you will not be allowed to get your teaching degree under Ohio law as it stands today,'' the judge said. ''The court's taking into consideration that is also a punishment that you will have to serve.''
This case is a textbook example of everything that remains racially wrong with America’s educational, economic and criminal justice systems. Let’s start from the top: Had Ms. Williams-Bolar been white, she likely would never have been prosecuted for this crime in the first place (I’d love for them to show me a white woman in that area who’s gone to jail for the same crime). She also is statistically not as likely to be living in a housing project with the need to break an unjust law in order to create a better life for her daughters. Being black is also correlated with the fact that Williams-Bolar likely didn’t have the resources to hire the kinds of attorneys who could get her out of this mess (since the average black family’s wealth is roughly 1/10 that of white families). Finally, economic inequality is impactful here because that’s the reason that Williams-Bolar’s school district likely has fewer resources than the school she chose for her kids. In other words, black people have been historically robbed of our economic opportunities, leading to a two-tiered reality that we are then imprisoned for attempting to alleviate. That, my friends, is American Racism 101.
This case is also an example of how racial-inequality created during slavery and Jim Crow continues to cripple our nation to this day. There is no logical reason on earth why this mother of two should be dehumanized by going to jail and be left permanently marginalized from future economic and educational opportunities. Even if you believe in the laws that keep poor kids trapped in underperforming schools, the idea that this woman should be sent to jail for demanding educational access is simply ridiculous.
When you look at the state report card for Akron vs Copley-Fairlawn (both pdfs), you can see why this mother would do what she did. Copley meets the 26/26 state benchmark while Akron clocks in at 4/26. Four. And while Akron has similar amounts of white and black students (40% to 47% respectively), 84.4% are considered "economically disadvantaged." Unsurprisingly, it's completely opposite at Copley. Copley is not only 75% white, but only 14% are economically disadvantaged. To pretend these percentages don't matter is a bit naive and the fact these two schools are in the same county and less than ten miles apart is appalling. That's the true crime here.
Also, what kind of school hires a private investigator for something like this? How many resources were used in the evidence gathering and prosecution of this crime?
I want to add that the judge who sentenced Williams-Bolar sent a letter to the state board of education asking them not to "suspend Williams-Bolar's teaching assistant's license or any teaching license she might obtain in the future." But even though Williams-Bolar is only a few credit hours short of a teaching degree at the University of Akron, this sentence has taken her ability to provide for her family out of her hands and placed it with the whims of the school board. Let's hope they do the right thing.
American schools are more segregated by race and class today than they were on the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed, 43 years ago.
In Summit County, the KKK claimed to have fifty thousand members, making it the largest local chapter in the United States during the 1910s and 1920s.