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April 5

Selves Worth Defending: Building Solidarity with Chrystul Kizer in Milwaukee

Report from Milwaukee about a community organizing campaign to support Chrystul Kizer, a 16 year old facing life in prison for defending herself against a 34 year old.

Chrystul Kizer, a black teenage girl from Milwaukee, Wisconsin who is facing life in prison for defending herself from white 34-year-old Randall Volar, III from Kenosha who has made child pornography of Chrystul and other survivors as well as committed sexual violence towards Chrystul. The Kenosha District Attorney, Michael Graveley, is charging Chrystul with four felonies, including first degree murder, arson and stealing a car. These charges could put her in prison for the rest of her life. Graveley has the power to drop all charges now and assert that Chrystul deserves her community and not punishment!

We have formed a defense committee for Chrystul, to assert that Black women and girls do have lives worth defending, and to win Chrystul’s freedom. The #FreeChrystul Defense Committee includes Chrystul’s mother Devore and step-father Mike, a number of anti-racist and abolitionist organizers, and other community members, many of whom are the Kizer’s neighbors.

Last month we took action against DA Graveley and the white supremacist system that’s trying to steal Chrystul from us. Our actions included community outreach, confronting the DA, and packing the court in solidarity with Chrystul. This is the beginning of a long campaign, that we insist will only end with Chrystul’s freedom.

Community Outreach

First we created a social media presence and fundraiser to help Devore visit, communicate with and care for her daughter in prison. Raising over $5000 in a few weeks, we were able to get Chrystul commissary and phone calls home. Her bail is unrealistically high ($1 million) due to an unrelated fleeing an officer charge from 2017, which is also why she’s being held in a state prison rather than pre-trial detention. We’re hoping when that sentence is over in April, bail will be reduced and funds can be raised to get her home.

Second, we drafted a letter to D.A. Graveley, and an online petition. As of this writing, the letter has  64 local, state and national organizations signing on Organizations can email [email protected] to sign on to the letter. Over 1,800 people from around the world have signed the petition.

On Saturday, February 16, we took our outreach off the internet and into the streets, despite frigid Wisconsin weather. We did a visibility action with signs, flyers, and a banner on a busy corner in Chrystul’s neighborhood, followed by a community meeting, where we shared food potluck style and planned future solidarity actions.

We know that the criminal punishment system will never do right by Chrystul, and want to build power behind her and all young people in her community. Milwaukee has some of the highest incarceration rates with greatest racial disparities in the world and has been ranked the worst US city to raise Black kids. Fighting for Chrystul here requires fighting for, and alongside her entire community.

Confronting the D.A.

We wanted to make sure we’d be able to put our letter and petitions directly in Graveley’s hand, not leave it in a mailbox, or on a desk with a secretary. Fortunately, we’d already researched him and learned he teaches Criminal Justice night classes at University of Wisconsin Parkside in Kenosha. We envisioned an action where we’d be waiting outside his class with a banner handing flyers to his students, and then hand-delivering the letter and petition. On February 20, organizers set out for UW-Parkside, arriving before DA Graveley’s class dismissed, but he let class out even earlier. Fortunately, one supporter caught up with him in the parking lot and held him up long enough for the rest of us to catch up and have an exchange.

First, Devore handed him the letter. He took it and went full politician on us, offering to meet and talk, denying some of his prior statements, then retracting them, and generally acting like he could convince us that Chrystul belongs in prison, which is absurd. We pushed back, speaking to the history of the US legal system and society denying the personhood and self-defense rights of Black women and girls. He insisted that his position wasn’t ideological, but we know that the default and unconscious ideology of US society is white supremacy and patriarchy, which he advances through his work every day. He talked about wanting everyone to “have all the information” so we could make informed decisions, which is ironic considering his attempts to prevent defense counsel from accessing evidence. When we confronted him about this, he denied it, even though he’s filed two motions arguing for restricting discovery.

We let him go, knowing we’d see him in court the next day. We’ll continue collecting signatures to the petition and letter, and plan to deliver updated versions regularly, as the case continues, so please sign and share!

Packing the Court

At the preliminary hearing on February 21, Judge Wilks was expected to decide how much of Kenosha Police Department’s child pornography investigation of Randal Volar, III should be handed over to her defense attorneys. By standard precedent set in Brady v Maryland decades ago, prosecutors are required to share any potentially exculpatory discovery – that is, useful evidence – with the defense attorneys. Prosecutors in the US routinely violate and try to weasel their way out of this requirement. As mentioned above, Graveley has filed two motions making specious arguments about why the judge should withhold the information. Chrystul’s attorneys responded, insisting that Chrystul’s self-defense argument would be supported by evidence of Volar’s sexual abuse and exploitation of other women and girls. The judge had been reviewing the police investigation file since the prior hearing on January 10.

We woke early for the hour long drive back down to Kenosha, arriving at 9:30 am. We started by demonstrating outside the courthouse for about an hour. By 10:30 am when court started, we had about 20 people filling the audience section, including students from UW Parkside and local organizers from Kenosha, as well as Devore, Mike and a group of Milwaukeeans.

We wore buttons and red armbands, as red is Chrystul’s favorite color. Volar’s family was also in court. At the January 10 hearing they outnumbered us, but this time, we more than doubled their number.

The hearing was delayed 45 minutes while Judge Wilk saw two other brief hearings. Then he and the lawyers were all out of the room for about 10 minutes before Chrystul was brought in. We’re assuming that’s where any discussion occurred, because the actual hearing was very brief and without any comment or discussion from Graveley. Judge Wilk ruled that Graveley must hand over the evidence to defense council by end of the followingMonday. This was a first victory for Chrystul and her legal defense team.

Judge Wilk also informed us that he received new evidence from the police investigation on the morning of the hearing. He cited a retirement in the police department as an excuse, but it seems strange that Graveley didn’t give this to the judge with everything else back in November. The new material includes 30 hours of video and another inch thick of paper documents, which the judge will review before ruling on.

These rulings are for whether the evidence is “discoverable” not “admissible.” Admissibility is about evidence appearing in open court or being used during a trial, discoverability is just releasing it to the defense. Judge Wilk’s ruling just allows Chrystul’s lawyers to make informed arguments for admitting this evidence to trial. Graveley will likely try to counter their arguments in forthcoming preliminary hearings in coming months.

The next hearing will be Friday, April 5 at 9:30 am. There, Wilk is expected to rule on the discoverability of the 30 hours of video and evidence he didn’t receive until the morning of the last hearing.

We intend to pack the court Friday and build a movement behind Chrystul, to continue pressuring DA Graveley and to urge other state officials, organizers and community members in Wisconsin and elsewhere to examine this case and intervene on Chrystul’s behalf.

Joining the Support Effort

Write to Chrysul at:
Chrystul Kizer #675639
Taycheedah Correctional Institution
PO BOX 3100
Fond Du Lac, WI 54936-3100

Follow the #FreeChrystul Defense Committee  at facebook.com/freechrystul/

Sign the petition here.
Donate to Devore’s support fund for Chrystul here.

*Other people have spontaneously started support groups for Chrystul, please direct them to this effort instead, as it is the only one working closely with Chrystul, her mom and her community. Thank you.

If your organization would like to join the letter signatories, please email [email protected].

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