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I’d previously written about Kiera Wilmot, the inquisitive Polk County Florida teenager arrested and expelled for a science experiment gone accidentally wrong.

I can’t let it lay, of course because this has struck a particularly raw nerve with me, so here’s an update.

There’s of course, a petition. Consider signing it.

Scientists across the spectrum took to twitter to register their outrage, and to discuss all the things they accidentally (or on purpose) blew up in chemistry class or outside of it, all in the name of scientific curiosity. The story went international. This made me feel slightly better about the state of humanity.

We didn’t do too many fun explody experiments in high school chemistry as it was the year 2000 and that’s about when idiocy began to descend across the land in education among other areas, but I did have a real chemistry set growing up (with real, actual chemicals, some of which were “dangerous”---probably can’t buy those anymore) and did set a number of things on fire. I recently confessed to my mother we used our gas burners as our Bunsen burner when she wasn't home or was napping but she apparently knew the entire time because she did it too when she was a child. She laughed.  I won’t even tell you all the things my brother set on fire in the name of science (he makes independent movies now, among other things, where sometimes he gets to set things on fire and get paid for it. Don't worry, he's not an arsonist.)

Also, in high school biology, we did a lab where we swabbed various surfaces around the school, growing several very nasty bugs, quite a few of which are weaponized by governments across this planet.  One of the staphs we grew in a petri dish actually had to be disposed of via hazmat. Now that I think about it, it’s kind of scary the germs that are just laying around—which was the point of the lab!

Get Messy! Take Chances! Make Mistakes! Miss Frizzle, the world needs you now. On the other hand, these methods apparently get you locked up.

Slate offers this piece on how we’re busy making the world a dumber, more scaredified place:

Playing with chemistry on a small scale, particularly with reactions that “snap, crackle and pop,” also fosters a sense of respect for the unexpected results that can happen when you mix things. Adults who have such formative experiences as kids might be less likely to contribute to the hundreds of non-drug related domestic chemical incidents each year. Note: Mixing bleach with almost anything is a bad idea. In a test tube it might send you scrambling for fresh air, in bucket quantities, it can kill you.

The consensus across Ms. Wilmot’s community is that it was just an accident and this is an overreaction. Accidents happen in Polk County, like when a 16 year old young man shot his younger brother with a BB gun, killing him. The same State’s Attorney in Wilmot’s case decided that was just a very tragic accident. No charges were filed.

I wonder why the DA decided to immediately charge Ms. Wilmot while not immediately charging the other young man. I wonder why that is.

I expected and welcomed push-back but I was a bit taken aback that some people seemed to miss my point. I stated pretty clearly that actions have consequences. I reject the consequence Polk County, FL and its school district has chosen, and my reasons are not only pretty clear, they’re backed up through over a decade of observation (since it’s been about a decade, perhaps two, that school boards have fetishized unthinking “zero tolerance policies”). What were my reasons?

1.    The school to prison pipeline is very real---my state just locked two judges away who had a cash for kids to prison program that ruined the lives of THOUSANDS. And this is a state that folks here think is blue (it's really, really not, but I digress. These transgressions happen all over the country, regardless of where the state sits on the political spectrum. See dsnodgrass's diaries, for example!)

2.    Zero-tolerance policies disproportionately target minority students. This is fact. Especially in Florida, and the DA’s apparent zeal to press charges rather shows that, in my opinion, even if done subconsciously. You can pretend we're post-racial all you damn want. I know it isn't true.

3.    We whine that we’re behind in math and science, and then take steps to not get students even remotely interested in it. The US to send people Mars? Hahahagurl bye.

4.    The consequence chosen gives a clear message: don’t be curious or else. Again? Us? Returning to space? Hahahahagurl bye.

I was a little disturbed a number felt that we should just accept what happened and that she should just be expelled. That “oh, she can do her GED at community college or an out program” is in anyway acceptable. That no prom. No yearbook. No walking with her friends at graduation, and quite possibly no university is an acceptable consequence for an accidental experiment. Her entire life could possibly be of lesser tier because of this. This is okay with people apparently, because I guess that’s just the America we have to live in.

A consequence that an entity that cared about science would levy seems to be, well, an obvious detention (this is America after all and we have to be punitive) followed up by a research paper answering the following: What reaction occurred? Why did it happen? How did it happen? Explain in detail. This seems more than fair, and would aid a smart teenager a great deal. Instead, they threw the book at her and said “oh the fuck well. Good luck in life!” I reject that in its entirety and frankly, we all should.

Now there’s been some progress and some of it good. She may not be tried as an adult. She’s got a good lawyer, and they’re busy trying to both drop the charges (or at the very least, get them muted to the point of only a few hours community service, which I suppose is grudgingly fair) and let her return to school. So we did have an effect. A good one.

That doesn’t change the unthinkingness of zero tolerance policies, the fact that a school to prison pipeline exists in several states, especially Florida, and so very many issues in this  country that need fixed, especially endemic racism whether conscious or unconscious. I still maintain if she weren't black in Central Florida, this would not be news. Nor does it change the terrible education so many are getting, while we are busy criminalizing garage chemistry and natural curiosity.  

7:02 AM PT: Here's a link to donate to Kiera Wilmot's legal fund:

Sat May 11, 2013 at 12:09 PM PT: UPDATE:

certain white progressives are predictable. Thanks for being so.

Originally posted to #WELLACTUALLY on Fri May 10, 2013 at 06:16 AM PDT.

Also republished by Black Kos community, Barriers and Bridges, and DKos Florida.

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