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An Enemy of the State

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A good man died this month in Ohio, but during the last three years of his life, he was treated like an enemy of the state. Edward L. Williams died in jail after serving 11 months of a 12 month sentence for illegally receiving disability payments. There was no question that he was disabled; he suffered from a host of maladies including: hypertension, gout, diabetes, heart disease and several strokes. Mr. Williams was in jail because he had allegedly received far too much money from the government than he was entitled.

But that is not why he was charged and prosecuted.

Edward L. Williams was considered an enemy of the state because he let his daughter, Kelley Williams-Bolar, use his address so that she could place her kids in a better school district -- one far better than the Akron school district where Williams-Bolar resides.  For that, Mr. Williams and his daughter were charged, prosecuted and faced a jury trial. Eventually, Ms. Williams-Bolar was convicted of a felony and, in effect, told by the judge that she should be ashamed of herself for stealing an education from the state.

In handing down the sentence, the judge further indicated that she wanted Ms. Williams-Bolar's case to serve as a deterrent to others who may be considering 'stealing an education'. Since Mr. Williams was not convicted in that case, within weeks he was charged with receiving too much in disability payments. And, curiously enough, his new case ended up in front of the same judge who presided over the residency trial involving both Mr. Williams and his daughter. Not surprisingly, that judge sentenced the ailing Mr. Williams to a year in jail, once he was convicted in the disability case.

In the movie version of Enemy of the State starring Will Smith, Gene Hackman's character, upon witnessing the government's wrath being dispensed on Smith's character, said, "Boy, you must have made somebody in the government really mad!". In the Williams case, the state of Ohio got mad because the Williams family "stole an education." It doesn't matter that cases involving individuals who use someone else's address to put their kid in a better school are selectively prosecuted. Nor does it matter that the recent target of these prosecutions around the country are typically low-income women of color.  Most significantly, it doesn't matter that the folks who are being charged are generally concerned parents attempting to escape schools that are failing on all levels.

It is telling that during the entire Williams-Bolar prosecution, neither the judge, nor the prosecutor, made any mention of how terrible the schools were in Akron, one of the worst school districts in the state. Indeed, some judge should hold the Akron school district in contempt for the miseducation of Ohio kids and countless other judges from countless other states should do the same.

Instead, more and more school districts are asking for budget increases to hire investigators and detectives to follow around low-income mothers and their kids to ensure that they aren't 'stealing an education' from the state. Really???

Let me be clear. I do not condone illegal activity. But the Williams' prosecution came as a result of a determined, driven effort where the government dedicated its energy, focus and resources toward getting those convictions. Which begs the question: Why can't these same powerful local governments dedicate the same energy, focus and resources toward fixing bad schools like the ones in Akron, Ohio?

Although Edward L. Williams died in an Ohio jail as an enemy of the state, he was a good man trying to do the best for his daughter and grandchildren. Despite the fact that this information was not mentioned in his newspaper obituary, this legacy should be known.

And the real enemies of the state are the ones who continue to allow bad schools to exist, thereby forcing desperate parents and grandparents to do desperate things.