I know the disorientation of grief. I know about being so very tired and sad and yet having to deal with the work that death brings. I know about the part when it feels like your world is destroyed and yet you look out and see the world is going on as if everything is the same when, for you, it’s forever changed.
So I have a sense of the strength it took for Ayanna E. Hampton to post a statement on Facebook about her mother Rev. Autura Eason-Williams, who was killed July 18 during what police say was a carjacking.
Fifteen-year-old Miguel Andrade has been arrested and charged with first-degree murder in her death. On July 21, it was announced that District Attorney General Amy Weirich’s office had submitted a notice of intent to seek to transfer Andrade to adult court.
We know this is not unusual for Weirich’s office; the D.A., in concert with the juvenile court judge Dan Michael, sends more children to adult court than any other prosecutor in the state. In 2021, 40 juvenile cases were transferred to adult court in Shelby County.
She knows the murder of a beloved community member, a pastor, a teacher makes it hard to argue with her decision. Or, you might say, gave her perfect cover to make it.
That’s perhaps why Hampton stepped in with this plea, in regard to her mother. “Please do not use her death as an opportunity to go all ‘tough on crime,’ ‘throw them under the jail, ‘charge them as adults so they won’t get a chance to do this again’ on us. I’m personally not tryna hear it, I disagree, and it would not make me feel better.
“This is not what she would say, or what she would consider to be justice.”
It’s important to understand that Hampton wasn’t just talking to Weirich. She was talking to all of us.
At a candidates forum on July 21, neither candidate addressed Eason-Williams’ case specifically. But Weirich talked about the factors she considers to make a transfer decision. “Can we prove what they’re charged with, or is this the wrong charge? Is it a bad case? What are the facts? Has this juvenile been in the system before? Have we tried everything at our disposal to get this young person on the right path?”
Her opponent Steve Mulroy countered that data shows that a child sent to adult prison is likely to reoffend when they’re released. “We’re essentially sending them to crime college,” Mulroy said. “That’s not making us safer, and it’s not protecting the victims.
“Are there times when we have no choice to take somebody that’s incorrigible and transfer them to adult court? Yes, but it should be a last resort, not a first instinct.”
As a journalist at MLK50, I want to use this difficult moment to think about the way these stories are covered.
The stories I’ve read about Rev. Eason-Williams listed her accomplishments, her loving kindness, her community work. But Hampton wrote that her mother was a tireless advocate and strategist for restorative justice practices; that she even served on a Memphis Police Department task force that sought to connect system-involved young people to their communities after committing crimes against them. I haven’t seen those facts in stories written about Eason-Williams before Hampton posted her statement.
The stories I’ve read about Miguel Andrade list his prior charges, the programs he completed and those he was referred to. That’s all I’ve learned of him.
The narrative is always the same: predator and prey. This is a bad kid. We tried to get him help but he can’t be trusted among us anymore.
Our practice is to not want to give light to the perpetrator. We don’t want to say their names or make them equal to the people they’ve harmed.
But what if we treated both the victim and the offender as full members of our community? What if the standard became to tell Andrade’s story too? To put equal weight on who he is and not just what he’s done?
I don’t mean to dismiss accountability. That’s not what restorative justice does either. Its goal is transformation. One step in that process is to ask to what degree have programs transformed individuals, communities and institutions. That’s an echo of what Weirich herself asked: Have we tried everything at our disposal to get this young person on the right path?
As journalists, as voters, that means taking a hard look into what we tried. How well were those programs funded? How do they work? What do they include? What’s the measurement of success?
According to her website, our current DA has created or helped to create or led program after program: The Multi-Agency Gang Unit, Operation Comeback; Community Justice. Does anyone know the impact these programs have made? Has anyone asked? Has Weirich reported how these programs have done?
What specifically would Mulroy do differently? How would he think through this case? What are his questions?
Grief is a lonely journey. We can’t help Hampton through hers.
But we can do what she did with her statement: Honor her mother, by not repeating the same patterns of fear and crime and punishment that led us right here, to this sad dark place where the world keeps going as it always does, while a mother is lost and a child is disposed of.
Adrienne Johnson Martin is executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at email@example.com
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