On Tuesday in an Ohio courtroom, Kelly Williams-Bolar, a mother of two with no criminal record, was sentenced to 10 days in jail and placed on 3 years probation for sending her children to school in a school district in which they did not live.
She was convicted on two counts of tampering with court records after registering her two girls as living with Williams Bolar’s father when they actually lived with her. The family lived in the housing projects in Akron, Ohio, and the father’s address was in nearby Copley Township. Additionally, Williams-Bolar’s father, Edward L. Williams, was charged with a fourth-degree felony of grand theft, in which he and his daughter are charged with defrauding the school system for two years of educational services for their girls. The court determined that sending their children to the wrong school was worth $30,500 in tuition
Ms. Williams-Bolar and her children are African-American and live in housing projects in Akron. Judging from this map, Copley Township (located just to the north and west of Akron) is predominantly white. Given both the persistence of racial segregation and the history of white people doing whatever it takes to keep their neighborhoods white, it is not unreasonable to wonder whether the people of Copley would have found Ms. Williams-Bolar’s actions as threatening had she been white and/or middle class.
The court’s actions in this case seem especially egregious given that the children’s father is a resident of Copley.
Even though Ms. Williams-Bolar will only be spending 10 days in jail (although, even this seems excessive) her recent conviction has made her a felon. As I have discussed earlier in my post entitled “Racism, Incarceration, and the Preservation of White Supremacy,” in this country, being a felon does not merely carry a stigma, it also carries real social, financial, professional, and civic penalties. The consequences of her conviction seem particularly harsh in Ms. Williams-Bolar case. Ms. Williams-Bolar, who had put herself through school while taking care of her children, had almost completed her teaching degree. However, since she is now a felon for life, and, in Ohio, felons cannot receive a teaching certificate, Ms. Williams-Bolar will never be able to fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher. As Change.org describes:
She has been robbed of the opportunity to elevate her life and the lives of her family through her own hard work. She has essentially handed a life sentence for attempting to protect her children. In a time of overwhelming economic disadvantage for so many US citizens, are loving single mothers like Williams-Bolar truly the enemy our court system should be making examples of in this way?
The children’s father has also been charged with a felony, and, if convicted, he too will be placed into the “caste” of felon for life.
It is bad enough that our schools remain not just racially segregated, but also racially unequal, (in fact, according to Jonathan Kozol’s Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, our schools are actually more racially segregated than they were at the time of Brown v. Board of Education), but there is something especially disgraceful about a country that would assign one class of children to a life of poverty and injustice and then punish them when they try to escape.
I’m reminded of Thomas Aquinas’ teaching on property, poverty, and justice. In the U.S., we classify what Ms. Williams-Bolar and her children’s father did as an act of theft. To Aquinas, however, it is those who would deprive the poor of the goods they need to flourish who are the true thieves. Because Aquinas believes that the use of external goods is owned in common rather than in private, he concludes that to “indiscriminately prevent others from using…property” is to commit the sin of robbery.
Moreover, Aquinas defines theft not just as taking from someone something they own legally, but also as depriving them of that to which they are entitled naturally. Thus, refusing to use “superfluous things in one’s possession…for the sustenance of the poor” is an act of theft as well as a violation of the natural law. For Aquinas, because “all things are common property in cases of necessity…it does not seem to be a sin if one takes the property of another.” What is especially relevant for the case of Ms. Williams-Bolar is that Aquinas thought that, in such cases, one is even permitted to “secretly take the property of another in order to assist a neighbor in such need.”
 Summa Theologica II-II 66.3
 Summa Theologica II-II 66.3.2; II-II 66.7
 Summa Theologica. II-II 66.7
 Summa Theologica. II-II 66.7.3
 Summa Theologica. II-II 66.2.2