#FreeGrace: Michigan Judge Buckles Down on Detainment of 15-Year-Old Black Girl

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Jul 22, 2020

A judge in Michigan refused to send a 15-year-old Black girl home from juvenile detention on Monday (July 21), even after her story became national news following ProPublica’s original reporting on July 14 that pointed to her not doing online homework as the reason she was remanded. In addition to national scrutiny, the Michigan Supreme Court is reportedly reviewing the case, and there have been protests, a Change.org petition, GoFundMe donations and more, as a result of her story. 

According to ProPublica’s update on the case, published July 20 in collaboration with the Detroit Free Press and Bridge Magazine, the teenager, called “Grace,” has been at a juvenile facility since mid-May for violating probation when she did not turn in her remote homework.

At yesterday’s hearing, family court judge Mary Ellen Brennan disagreed, saying, “She was not detained because she didn’t turn her homework in. She was detained because I found her to be a threat of harm to her mother based on everything I knew,” according to ProPublica.

Yet ProPublica reported how Grace and her mom passionately embraced “for more than a minute” and “sobbed audibly through their masks” after hearing the apathetic feedback from Brennan. “I think you are exactly where you are supposed to be,” Brennan told the girl, according to ProPublica. “You are blooming there, but there is more work to be done.”

Grace’s troubles with law enforcement reportedly began last November when she was charged with theft and assaulting her mother, the Detroit News reported. The law escalated once the student—who reportedly has ADHD, receives special education services, and struggled with the transition to remote learning—fell behind in distance learning which her probation officer said was a violation of her probation.  

But as Colorlines previously reported, the over-policing of Black youth means they are five-times more likely than white kids to face detainment and it continues to happen while the nation battles COVID-19. “Here is another instance of where a youth on probation was put in a confined setting for a behavior that is not a crime,” said Mary King, executive director of the Michigan Liberation Action Fund, the Detroit News reports. “We only know about Grace because the mother reached out to a reporter. Because there is no system for reporting such situations on the youth justice system, we have no idea how many other ‘Graces’ there are.” 

To continue to receive updates on this case, visit Grace’s Change.org page.