Bail Fund for Kentrell Ware
Organized by: Brenna Anderson
Brenna Anderson via Crowdrise
September 05, 2014
“If you were to meet some of my students on the street, you might automatically reduce them to a gang member, a “thug,” a drug dealer, a teen mom, a threat, a caricature. When we reduce our children to statistics or labels we lose the ability to truly see them. Most of my students merely want to be seen. They want to matter to someone in a way that they haven’t mattered before. They want to matter to someone for a reason other than being a blood relative, having a gang affiliation, living on a certain block or having a certain skin color. They want to matter because of what makes them unique. The deficit of love and recognition felt by so many of these teenagers is manifest in how they carry themselves and how they relate to authority. My students will test my capacity for love by how they might initially push me away or disrespect me or ridicule me. It’s only when I come back the next day, unwavering in my desire to know them, that we can begin to learn and grow together. “ –Luke Anderson (Excerpted from his essay from The book We All We Got By Carlos Javier Ortiz)
On the night of August 20th, Kentrell Ware rode his bike through Wicker Park. It was a neighborhood he spent a lot of time in as his Grandmother lives there. It was raining. He happened to pass by the aftermath of a car accident and he stopped and sat on his bike, watching the scene unfold. Suddenly, several unmarked police cars pulled up and Kentrell took off on his bike. Years of experience had taught him that police were to be avoided at all costs. The cops ran him down and arrested him, claiming he had participated in a strong arm robbery in the area just hours earlier. They searched him, and in the process sliced up his backpack with a knife finding no evidence of any wrongdoing. Kentrell waited in the squad car while they brought the victim to identify him. The victim looked at him for several seconds and confirmed that it was Kentrell who had robbed him. Even though he has no prior arrests of convictions, Kentrell was booked, processed, and held on $200,000 bail for aggravated robbery. According to the victim’s statement, he was followed and then approached by three black males who demanded his cell phone. The victim then threw his phone on the ground and ran. As he ran, he slipped and fell, incurring minor injuries. Kentrell now waits in Cook County Jail, the largest urban jail in America and a place where daily life includes constant fear of physical violence, inedible food, and a culture where savagery equals survival. At his arraignment hearing, the bail was reduced to $50,000, meaning that Kentrell would need $5,000 to be allowed to wait for his trial from home.
I first got to know Kentrell when he was 15 years old and a freshman at North Lawndale College Prep. He was written up constantly for being off task during class, showing up late and for the many jokes and insults he lobbed at teachers and students alike (a personal favorite of Brenna’s is “Look at Mr. Anderson, looking like his Granddaddy!”) He was repeatedly teased and bullied for the superficial things high school kids are typically bullied about. I remember Kentrell coming to my classroom during his lunch period to avoid going to the cafeteria where he would be teased, respond inappropriately, and then be sent to the Dean’s office for discipline. He could predict the conflict or trouble he would get into and would try his best to avoid confrontation. I spent a lot of time with Kentrell, helping him fill out job applications, talking about taking a girl out on a first date, and childcare because he often had to care for his younger brother who was about 3 years old. Three to four times a week Brenna would come to school to pick me up and nine times out of ten Kentrell would be in my classroom after school hours listening to gospel music or playing video games on the computer.
I never saw him act violently or even threatening in any way (jokes and insults are often a sign of affection in my school…you must develop thick skin.) Kentrell loves his church and attends 4 or 5 times a week to play music and to worship. In the summer he goes on church trips, returning in August to tell me about the fun times he had in Wisconsin or Missouri or how he was amazed at how close Canada is to Michigan. He also made fun of me mercilessly but with affection because he knew he could never really push me away. For better or worse, I’m stuck with Kentrell and he’s stuck with me.
I went to visit Kentrell at Cook County Jail on the Sunday before Labor Day. I hadn’t talked to him since his arrest and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Had Kentrell actually decided to rob people because he needed money so badly? Had he given up on his faith? Had the light in him gone out because of his alienation? Had he finally succumbed to the pull of the street described by James Baldwin? All of these questions went through my mind as the parade of teary-eyed mothers, stone-faced fathers and oblivious small children passed before me to visit their brothers, sons and fathers. My fears were immediately dispelled when I saw Kentrell. The same naivete was still there. He was scared; terrified, actually. “Mr. Anderson, I don’t belong in here. Why would I rob somebody and then hang around on my bike after? Plus, you know me! I’m not even on that stuff!” He’s been there for two weeks now. He described how when he first arrived he was placed in a division with older guys who “had bodies on them.” He soon realized that this was an ideal location because the older guys acted “more mature” and just talked about sports and the accomplishments of the Jackie Robinson West little league team. The division he is in now, with younger guys, is a much different place. “Everybody in here is on that gangbangin stuff.” As we talked, every few minutes, a series of shouts and screams would echo from the door behind him and he would jump up and look into the room next door, eyes wide with fear. Kentrell just turned 18 in May, and I agree with him. He doesn’t belong in there.
1) Because every child deserves a safety net. Some people are lucky enough to have financial AND social capital. Let’s share the wealth.
2) Because we want Kentrell to know: YOU MATTER. Kentrell is a part of our community and by extension your community. We know for a fact that Kentrell will be shocked and awed at the people rallying around him. You get to be a part of that. Imagine thinking no one is there for you and suddenly realizing there was an entire community behind you and supporting you. Pretty amazing.
3) Because you know Luke and Brenna. We care deeply about Kentrell and we will be forever grateful to you helping us realize this goal.
4) The criminal Justice system is rigged against poor people and people of color. While we may not be able to solve this greater injustice we can be a small movement changing the outcome for one individual. From the report “Rational and Transparent Bail Decision-Making: Moving from a Cash-Based to a Risk-Based Process,” March 2012, The Pretrial Justice Institute:
As U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has noted in speaking about defendants sitting in jail on bonds that they cannot afford: ‘Almost all of these individuals could be released and supervised in their communities-and allowed to pursue and maintain employment and participate in educational opportunities and their normal family lives-without risk of endangering their fellow citizens or fleeing from justice. Studies have clearly shown that almost all of them could reap greater benefits from appropriate pretrial treatment or rehabilition programs that from time in jail-and might, as a result, be less likely to end up serving long prison sentences.’
1) Get Kentrell out of Cook County Jail
2) Work with the Public Defender assigned to Kentrell’s case to get the charges dropped
3) Set up a trust for Kentrell with the bail money for educational or vocational training expenses. (Judges often order for half the bail money to go to the Public Defender’s office).