Protests Outside Michigan Court for Teen Jailed for Not Doing Schoolwork

Hundreds of protesters have gathered outside a Michigan courthouse, demanding that a Black teenage girl who was sent to juvenile detention for not completing schoolwork while on probation be freed.

The rally, organized by the Michigan Liberation group, started outside Groves High School in Birmingham where the 15-year-old attends, before making its way to Oakland County's Circuit Court on Thursday.

The demonstration called for a release of the girl, known only as Grace, after details of her incarceration made national news this week.

The teenager was sentenced to Oakland County's juvenile detention center, Children's Village, in May after a judge ruled she had violated the terms of her probation by not completing her schoolwork while working remotely.

The girl, who is reported to have attention deficit disorder (ADHD), was on probation for fighting with her mother and stealing a phone from a student at her school.

She reportedly struggled to cope with doing her schoolwork online after it closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and is no longer reaching the counseling she previously was.

Judge Mary Ellen Brennan ruled that the teenager broke the terms of her probation because she did not fulfill "the expectation with regard to school performance."

Grace is not due to appear in court to have her case reviewed until September 8.

Marjon Parham, of MI Liberation, said it was important that the protests took place at the school as well as the courthouse to highlight their concerns about Grace's incarceration.

"Because some people asked, 'Why not just start it at [the courthouse]?' She's a student at Groves, so we are going to start there and go down to Telegraph," Parham told the Detroit Free Press.

"That's powerful. Because it's just like a funeral procession, when you see people coming in a caravan kind of procession. It draws attention."

Pontiac City Council President Kermit Williams was one of those who spoke at the rally. He said "elected officials" are responsible for putting Grace in jail while urging people to tell non-voters about her situation.

"The worst thing you can lose in your life is your innocence," Williams said. "When you don't believe in the system, you have to tear it down. In order for [Grace's situation] to happen, it started with the prosecutor.

"But it didn't just stop with the prosecutor, it stopped with the judge. The whole system is set up for our failure."

Prudence Canter, 18, a graduating senior at the school, told Reuters it is clear the teenager has been treated disproportionally.

"A lot of people were behind on their work this semester, no one had motivation to do anything because the teachers weren't teaching and we were all online. I know so many people that didn't do their homework," she said.

Michigan congressman Andy Levin was one of those who condemned the girl's sentencing.

"Unfortunately, this case is reflective of the harsh penalties children of color face throughout Michigan and the United States when dealing with the criminal justice system," Levin said.

"In our state, Black children are incarcerated at four times the rate of white children. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is tragic to see the criminal justice system follow Black youth into their homes."

Judge Brennan could not be reached for comment. However, in a statement to The Oakland Press, her husband, attorney Ed Lennon, dismissed accusations that her sentencing decision was racially motivated as "ill-informed." He added a lot of information around the case has not been made public due to the girl's age.

"Volunteering her evenings as the long-time presiding judge of the family-focused juvenile drug court, Judge Brennan has sought alternatives to incarceration for young offenders," Lennon said. "She has been a distinguished jurist for 12 years, and she is known for her compassion and fairness, regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation."

Lennon also accused lawmakers of having an "ignorant, knee-jerk reaction" to the original ProPublica story.

In a statement Oakland County Executive David Coulter said he has spoken with Brennan and called for a review of the case.

"While there are many more details that she is unable to share with me and the public to protect privacy of the minor and their family, I believe a review of this case within her court or during an appellate process is required," Coulter said.

(File photo) Protesters march through the West End on July 11, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. Hundreds of protesters have called for the release of a 15-year-old girl who is in juvenile detention for not completing schoolwork. Matthew Hatcher/Getty

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