Aymir and the Death of Black Childhood

by Ryan Wilson

New Haven teenager Aymir Holland faces up to 61 years in prison for allegedly assaulting and robbing an elderly Yale professor, Charles Hill, in November of 2015. While Hill was unable to number or identify his attackers, one of the other two teenagers arrested for the assault reportedly told police that Aymir was a participant, while the other stated they were unsure whether or not he took part in the assault. Latoya Willis, Holland’s mother, has said that her now 17-year-old son has never even faced suspension, much less prison time. In lieu of paying an astonishing $250,000 bail, Holland has spent the last 7 months in the Manson Youth institution in Cheshire.

According to Willis, her son “stood speechless and terrified as the attack unfolded,” and ran away with the assailants afterwards (“My Son Didn’t Assault that Professor”). Some have viewed Holland’s actions as an admission of guilt. If he was not guilty of any crime, why would he run away from the scene? Why didn’t he intervene? Why didn’t he stay and call for help? To me, these questions betray a complete ignorance of what it means to be Black in America – especially in proximity to violent crime.

The assumption of Black guilt in the US is pervasive and dangerous. Had Aymir stayed and summoned the police, he might have ended up shot and killed by the cavalry, like the Black man in Indianapolis who was shot in his own home after reporting a robbery. If he had stayed to help, he might have been killed like the Black cop in Maryland who was deliberately shot by a fellow officer when he tried to aid in the arrest of a criminal. To hang around the scene of a robbery could have easily led to him being chased down by police officers with their weapons drawn, like this 10-year old Black boy in New Jersey, or Yale’s own Tahj Blow.

To see a teenager like Aymir Holland face what basically amounts to a life sentence speaks volumes to how we, as a country, devalue Black childhood and Black aspirations. At the age of 16, Holland allegedly participated in an assault and robbery. With no prior criminal record, he may be tried as an adult and see the rest of his life thrown away. At 32, Ryan Lochte and several other legal adults narrowly avoid creating an international incident, and the public is asked to “give the kids a break.” At 18, Brock Turner is arrested and convicted of rape, but is only sentenced to 6 months in prison because of the “severe impact” a prison sentence would have on someone of his age. He recently got out after 3 months because of good behavior – less than half the time Aymir has already spent locked up. 23-year-old child molester, Joseph Presley, managed to avoid an 8-year prison sentence because of the fear of the effects the prison would have on the “boy.”

It isn’t hard to look at Aymir Holland’s name in headlines and imagine my own in its place. Last summer I traveled to China, a dream sixteen-year-old Aymir shares. I have often found myself in situations where friends and family brought around shady characters I didn’t know. Yet I have the privilege of attending an Ivy League university, where many are fortunate enough to escape punishment for misbehavior or illegal acts, and now have the chance to live out their aspirations.

All this talk about the negative impacts of prison on young, first time offenders, and discussions of their hopes and goals are noticeably absent in conversations about incarcerating young, low-income Black people. After 61 years in prison, Aymir would come out possibly unable to find a job, find housing, or vote, due to legal discrimination. He might also find himself bound to a lifetime of debt. I sincerely hope the judge in Holland’s case will consider that no one should lose their life at the age of 16. As a country, we need to seriously consider the realities and aspirations of Black children.