Mother, Black Lives Matter Activist Address Hand-Cuffing Of Ten-Year-Old

Mar 20, 2017

This image of a hand-cuffed 10-year-old provoked controversy on social media.
Credit Black Lives Matter

Note: This post has been revised to reflect new developments.

The mother of a 10-year-old boy who was handcuffed by Bloomington police and photographed in an image that went viral on social media last week is speaking out about the incident.

Anntionnetta Simmons said her son suffers from attention deficit disorder. He was charged last week in West Bloomington with disorderly conduct. His mother said the charge is the result of a misunderstanding.

The boy's 16-year-old brother was charged in the same incident with resisting arrest after he attempted to intervene on his younger brother's behalf in front of the family's home.

The incident unfolded after police were called to the Christian Faith Center on Front Street to respond to a complaint that the 10-year-old was throwing rocks in the parking lot and was in possession of a rake. When the boy ran, police pursued him to his home and handcuffed him, according to details pieced together from a variety our sources.

A representative of Christian Faith Center could not be reached for comment.

Many residents who commented on social media expressed support for Bloomington police. But the photo provoked a much different reaction within the minority community, where it underscored what many community leaders say is a much different view of police.

Many African American residents complain they are targeted by law enforcement -- claims supported by data that show African Americans in Bloomington  are disproportionately stopped  by police when driving or walking in the street.  

In an interview on GLT's Sound Ideas, Simmons said her sons can be mischievous,  but that police have labeled them as troublemakers and placed them under scrutiny.

The 10-year-old had a previous charge of destruction of government property last June for spray-painting his name on a structure at Friendship Park.

His mother described the incident as a childhood prank. Police charged the 10-year-old with a Class 4 felony, for which he received mandatory community service.  Because he did not complete his community service, and he now faces possible time in detention on the earlier charge.

Reached by phone while vacationing, Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner said he feels "sorry" for the 10-year-old who was photographed,  and added that the family has a "criminal history." He declined further comment, citing privacy rules surrounding juvenile cases.

The mother of the boys said she believes her sons are targets because police are watching her.

She was jailed about a year ago on a drug charge she denies. She said police discovered drugs on guests in her home during a raid in which she was not present. Nonetheless, she was charged as well as the legal occupant of the home.

The raid on her home, she said, followed complaints she had made about police.  

"Last year, I worked with folks at the Tool Library and Mid Central Community Action and different community officials to bring awareness that we are being harassed. It's not just my household, its everybody, the blacks folks in our area are being targeted," Simmons said.

She said it was because of her incarceration that her 10-year-old did not complete his community service. He had been sent out of Bloomington to live with a relative while she was in jail.

Speaking on Sound Ideas, Black Lives Matter organizer Louis Goseland, who is white, said he has witnessed multiple incidents in which police approach young African American males who who are walking in the street or talking on street corners. 

"There's not a whole lot to do on the west side, so kids kind of get together and hang out at Friendship Park," Goseland said.

When Goseland tried to intervene in one of those incidents, he said, police began questioning him on "what are you doing in the area, what do you know, what have you seen?"

"That got some of the neighbors together to start talking about what kind of treatment people on the west side are receiving," Goseland said.

Chief Heffner has said police focus on neighborhoods where the crime rate historically has been higher. 

Goseland said so-called "hot spot policing" sets up a situation in which the neighborhoods where police are more active are also likely to be the places where more arrests are made.

"If you target all of your enforcement in one area, then you're going to find more instances of crime. The west side has been criminalized in a way that is unfair. People have been labeled and it's all to fit this narrative that the west side deserves" stepped up enforcement," Goseland said.

The pedestrian stops in particular are a source of tension, Goseland and Simmons said. 

"These kids get picked up for absolutely nothing, and police will put them in handcuffs," Simmons said.

"Most times they are not getting new charges," but such an incident, she added, can can result in probation being revoked if a person happens to have a previous charge.

Such cases show how the lives of families -- especially the poor -- can be thrown into turmoil after brushes with the law enforcement.

Simmons said she would have liked to fight her drug charge in court, but felt compelled to plead guilty after spending 68 days in jail because she could not post bond.

"While people may look at a situation on paper and say well, they were found guilty of this, one thing people don't consider is there is a definite disadvantage if you can't get proper legal representation and fight back," Goseland said.

Simmons said when she was released from prison, she found that her landlord had placed the contents of her home on the street, and she had to find a new place to live, had lost possession of her car, and had difficulty finding a job to support her family.

On Tuesday, the 10-year-old faces a hearing on the June 2016 spray-painting charge at the Law and Justice Center.

On its Facebook page, Black Lives Matter BloNo is asking residents to contact McLean County State's Attorney Jason Chambers to ask that the charges against the boy be dropped. Goseland said the group is trying to arrange a restorative justice solution for the boy.

In that case, the matter could be handled outside of court if an agreement can be reached for the boy to make restitution by either community service or some other solution.

Goseland said Black Lives Matters has found a church where the 10-year-old can perform community service and that the boy has agreed to write a letter of apology for defacing the platform in Friendship Park.

Black Lives Matter canceled a rally that was planned for 10 a.m. Tuesday in front of the Law and Justice Center in support of the 10 year-old and to ask that the charges against him be dropped.

The group said in a statement, "We want to make sure (the boy) and his family get through his court hearing without opening up more space for harassment and hearsay" and thank citizens for the support shown in the form of "positive Facebook comments, offers of legal support to the many calls to decision makers."

In a post this weekend on the Not in Our Town Facebook page, Chambers said some facts surrounding this case have been misconstrued, but added he  could not comment further because it involves a juvenile.

"I am not going to post specific information here. But I will say that the facts as being presented, unfortunately are not fully accurate," Chambers wrote.

Chambers, however, did seek to clarify some of the procedures surrounding juvenile cases.

" A juvenile may be offered an opportunity to comply with the specific conditions of a 'probation adjustment' after a police contact without the police report ever even being submitted to the State’s Attorney’s Office, as an alternative to a formal charge and juvenile court proceedings. Sometimes they are given weeks or months to do what probation is requesting," Chambers said.

"Unfortunately some juveniles fail to take advantage of this opportunity, and fail to fully cooperate with such an alternative to formal court. The uncooperative juvenile may then be formally charged with having committed a violation of a criminal statute," he continued.

"We have no interest in warehousing kids. The goal of juvenile court is to get needed services for a child, any child, and to prevent future issues and to do it in a manner which protects the confidentiality of a juvenile," Chambers added.

On Monday, Chambers issued a further clarification on his Facebook page.

"There is no such thing as a 'felony charge' in a delinquency proceeding. That is not the way a juvenile case works. There is a petition filed asking the court to find that a juvenile violated a law. There are no misdemeanors or felonies. Either a child is found to be a delinquent or not. Additionally, that only happens after Juvenile Probation has done a review of the case to determine whether to offer deferred prosecution. If deferred prosecution is not appropriate, or refused, then it goes to the SAO (State's Attorney's Office)."

"Delinquency proceedings are sealed and there is no "record" available to anyone in the public. They do not have to take any action to seal the records and they are automatically closed. No juvenile case has a conviction. There is no conviction that follows any child for the rest of their life in a delinquency action," Chambers added.

Simmons said if the Christian Faith Center wants her son to perform some form of service,  "I will make sure he does  that ... He knows having a felony is not a good thing to have. It just  takes hope away."

Goseland said Black Lives Matter would like to work more closely with police to improve the level of trust. Improving community policing is one solution, he said.

"I'm talking about a type of community policing that gives the community the ability to say what kind of practices should be executed by the police," Goseland said.

"Community policing means not just  going out and doing events form time to time, it means rethinking and transforming the way that we develop our policing practices so that it includes the community," he added.

Goseland called for a community review board to oversee complaints against police, something that is handled internally now by the department, and for the citizen board to  have a voice in recommending  disciplinary actions.

"There are a number of policy recommendations we are proposing, but the first step is acknowledging there is a problem," Goseland said.

Editor's Note: This post has been updated to reflect that a rally planned for 10 a.m.