To be young, gifted, black, and locked up

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Prometheus 6 tipped me off to the situation involving Shaquanda Cotton.  Steady yourself before you read this.  Take your blood pressure pill and your nitro glycerin, have a drink, a smoke, a massage, or whatever you have to do to relax because after you read it, you’ll want some answers and won’t be quite up to hearing about, “The Audacity of Hope.”

46 thoughts on “To be young, gifted, black, and locked up

  1. I heard about this on the news not to long ago. I could see her maybe getting 6 months of juvy, but 7 years thats just crazy. Their is people getting off on murder with less/same time as that. Do you believe it was due to race, or just ended up with as judges?

  2. Michael,

    Only racial animus can account for the harshness of this sentence. When a white young man drives recklessly and kills a grandmother and her grandbaby and gets probation, you know that our lives are considered meaningless in the eyes of this judge. Two people died and he gets off like he ran over a pet, c’mon. Good thing I don’t live there and she’s not my child. I would have lost my damn mind.

  3. Michael, do you believe it DOESN’T have to do with race?
    That’s the real question.
    That question makes me weary at office gatherings around the water cooler.
    That question makes me want snap on my headphones and listen to alternating tracks from Dead Prez and Gospel songs singing “Everything’s going to Be Alright”.
    That question makes me want to smack upside the head fools who say “The world’s gone crazy!”. The world’s BEEN crazy, jack. Where have you been? Have you no eyes, can you not see?

  4. dblhelix

    I looked up the location of Paris, but I already knew in my gut it was in east TX. I’ve been giving money in the past year for the Billy Ray Johnson case which occured less than two hours away from this incident. All the warnings in SB’s post apply for this case as well.

  5. What “I am not Star Jones” said.

    You got the first evidence that some parts of Texas are still in the 19th Century with the James Byrd incident.

    And Paris, Texas needs to be embarassed about this incident just like Tulia, Texas got the rap for lynching a brotha walking down the street for sport.

    Mississippi and Texas – gotdamn!!!

  6. I can’t believe I never heard about this story. I’m not naive enough to believe horrific situations don’t occur on a routine basis, but when a story is “smack dab, right in your face” there’s just this unbelievable feeling that you’re going to keep reading along and discover the “just wrote this to get your attention, it didn’t really happen” line at the end of it. But there isn’t one. And this child is instead living some unimaginable nightmare. I can’t imagine spending one night in jail, let alone be starting my second year for something such as shoving someone, when someone else who set a HOUSE ON FIRE only gets probation. Do equality and equity mean nothing at all in Texas?

    I’ve added her blog to my blogroll in the hopes of getting even a bit of attention focused on her plight. I’m too peeved right now to post any blog entry that would make any sense, but will when I’ve calmed down. Unbelievable, yet more so, just incredibly, incredibly sad.

  7. 7 years in jail for pushing a hall monitor–if you’re black
    (see links section)
    What began as a bad day for 14-year-old Paris (Texas) High School freshman Shaquanda Cotton ended up as an apartheid nightmare. It seems that Shaquanda shoved a hall monitor in a dispute over entering the building before the school day had officially begun. She was trying to get to the nurse’s office to get her daily dose of medicine for her “attention deficit” disorder. Was this African-American youngster suspended? Kept after school? Sent to a counselor for some anger-management intervention? No.
    Shaquanda, who had no previous arrest record, was tried in March 2006 in the town’s juvenile court, convicted of “assault on a public servant,” and sentenced by Lamar County Judge Chuck Superville to prison for up to 7 years until she turns 21. Just three months earlier, Superville sentenced a 14-year-old white girl, convicted of arson for burning down her family’s house, to probation.

    For more see Chicago Tribune story, “To some in Paris, sinister past is back.”

    Contact all news, radio, and others you know. This might not be your child, but might be a child you know in the future if this is not dealt with this true injustice.

    Below is just one of the letter’s I sent on the behalf of Shaquanda Cotton:

    Dear Sir;
    This letter is in response to a story published in the March 12th 2007 issue of the Chicago Tribune regarding the continued confinement of Shaquanda Cotton of Paris Texas. I am simply infuriated at the severity of the sentence imposed by Judge Chuck Superville. The incident initially considered a misdemeanor, was elevated to a felony, and Judge Superville imposed an indeterminate sentence with one year certain, up to age 21. Yet despite the Lamar County’s District Attorney and his staff protestations to the contrary, one can only conclude that race and the efforts of the Shaquanda’s parent to receive equal treatment for Black children from the school Board and the administration of Paris High School. This action implies an attempt to squash legitimate dissent, a right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. Surely this is not something you would approve, nor any other true American.

    Additionally, once Shaquanda was remanded to the custody of the Texas Youth Commission, that initial callousness was further compounded by treating Ms Cotton, diagnosed since age 7 with attention hyperactivity deficit disorder (ADHD), with the drug seratraline (Zoloft). This drug, based on a public warning issued by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), indicated an increased risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior with the use of this antidepressant medication, especially if the recipient was under 18 years old. Shaquanda has since been recorded as having three attempted suicides in the course of the 11 months she has been incarcerated. Shaquanda Cotton, I may add has never been arrested or charged with any other crime previously, at most, a few minor infractions of school rules. Does wearing her skirt one inch too short or pouring too much paint in a cup, deserve such an overwhelming draconian response by the justice system in Paris Texas? I think you will agree with me that it does not.
    This situation is unconscionable, Mr. Governor, and I am sure that you, as the leader of the great state of Texas, wants to see Shaquanda Cotton returned home, to recover her childhood, to grow up and become a fine upstanding citizen of whom we can all be proud. Send her home, now, and let her begin, realize her human possibilities.
    Thank you.

  8. youngblackman

    The blame is clearly on the district court judges in Paris. These judges, who I believe are elected, are the ones who levy punishments. The prosecutorial office claims they sought the same sentence (whatever that sentence may have been) for botht the white and black girl. Marching, protesting, and anger are will warranted in this situation.

    And, while gathering to march, blacks and hispanics of Paris need to fill out voter registration cards. They have the power to remove these judges. If you allow racists to administer the law, can you expect anything less than racist results?

  9. Darrylm

    My mother worked in a hell hole of a school for 20+ years with bad ass, wild ass kids so I do not have much sympathy for anyone that lays hands on a school official.

  10. trista

    I am a white 2004 graduate of Paris High School, and I was not the most pleasant of students during my time there. I received one detention in all my time there. I have been raised in a bi-racial family and have heard first hand the types of things that go on in this part of the country. Explain how it is that if this “58 year old” hall monitor has gone through so much angst then why is it that not one time is she mentioned by name in a single article. If she felt so strongly about the “injustice” that she had experienced why is it that she won’t come forward and voice her opinion! Truthfully I believe it is cowardice! And why is it that judge superville can never be reached for comment? again more cowardice! In my rightful opinion I believe that if he had felt so sure in his sentencing that he should be running front line, but where is he? Hiding! Hiding from the damn community that he is supposed to represent and protect! How much protection are we receiving when a 14-year old little girl is thrown in prison and her crime? Being young, black, and opinionated. If anything, you would think it would be more of a crime to be white, ignorant, and been put in charge of a whole county. Lets just take a moment to rationalize what has really happened in this backwards town, it has nothing to do with a simple shove or a juvenile criminal intent, and everything to do with southern small town ignorance. Its 2007 lets grow up and move forward. Otherwise at the rate things are going we will have to go back to marches on Washington. Maybe someday equality will stop being an illusion and start becoming a reality. The only way that will happen is if people will start rallying for a legitimate cause and not just shouting out at random. A unified voice will cause a change.

  11. Sadly, I’m not shocked. I’m a Texas girl; and although I live in the big city, I’m quite familiar with this type of heavy handed sentencing for minorities in Texas. It doesn’t pay to get in any kind of trouble in Texas. These DA’s intend to throw your black or brown behinds behind bars as long as they can allow. I got a chance to see it with my own eyes.

    I visited the criminal court building and watched white person after white person get probation and maybe 6 months of state jail. But the black and mexican folks were getting state prison time. And if they got probation, they got some God awful time, like 10 or 15 years. It’s shameful.

    I often tell the young people that I work with to make sure that they don’t get in any kind of trouble here in Texas. Simply because the justice system in Texas is harsh and more harsh on black or brown folks. My advice is just stay on the straight and narrow. Do not put yourself in the hands of the criminal justice system. I don’t think that’s hard to do. Since you know how these white folks are, don’t put your life, future, and potential in their hands/control.

    Know this, and knowit deep in your heart…Racism is sho’nuff alive and well in East Texas. If racism and discrimination is evident in Dallas and Houston, you know what’s going down in west and east Texas. My sister goes to an university in east Texas. I can’t wait until she brings a behind from down there with those openly racist students and city people.

    I hate to tell you this… Writing Rick Perry will likely do no good. Governor Perry ain’t got no type of commitment to black folks. He’s a man after his Boy, George Bush’s, heart. Both of them claim that they respect the judges and juries right to make a decision about sentencing. They have often said that they don’t feel like it is their right to use their power to overturn or reduce the sentencing imposed by the judge and/or jury.

    I’ll still write the governor though. This case reminds me of the Marcus Dixon case. Maybe if enough attention is boosted, the governor will make a move.

    Forgive me for such a long post.

  12. Denise

    Where’s the US Justice Department? Better yet, what are the NAACP and NAACP LDF doing to to draw everyone’s attention, including DOJ, to this case?

    You’d think those groups would seize on a case like this because: (1) the sentencing patterns down there are clearly skewed to the disadvantage of black folks, and (2) to confirm the organization’s RELEVANCE, especially for today’s youth.

    Thanks for the heads-up.

  13. youngblackman

    dblhelix

    as a person more than familiar with the legal community, I can tell you that just because whites dominate elected offices, and because whites make up a majority of the polulation, does not mean that there are no electable blacks and no sympathetic whites. That attitude of “there’s nothing to do but leave” is weak, exactly what whites want, and apathetic.

    There are things we can do. Instead of leaving, black people should flood Paris. Don’t talk about marching and protesting if you advise people not to be around if they actually get equality.

  14. Thanks for pointing this out. I sent this email to the governor:

    Today I read about the extreme sentence handed down to Shaquanda Cotton in Paris, Texas. If the town is not able to rein in the racism that threatens it, I believe it is the duty of the Governor and other public servants to step in and show the way.

    I find it amazing that a youthful indiscretion in which nobody was even injured is considered grounds for destroying a young person’s life in Paris. I’d be horrified at that miscarriage of justice regardless of the race of the child, but when you realize that Shaquanda is spending more time in jail than some rapists or killers have, it really turns your stomach.

    Please look into this matter,

    [signature]

  15. Oh really, Darrylm? So let’s give her the death penalty then, according to your logic. You are not taking into consideration that if a white child did that the punishment would not be so severe.

    You are not being logical.

  16. VevSpeaks:

    Darrylm is a troll that we should not feed on this board, because he’s too drunk on Bush’s kool-aid.

    I was born in Houston, and now I know why the hell we left and moved to California. Not that things were too much better, but hell, no judge worth his salt would even entertain throwing a 14 year old girl in jail because she pushed a hall monitor.

    I swear, people are using 9/11, the Columbine shootings and any other tragic event as an excuse to get their bigotry on, and say that’s why they did it.

    Upthread, Trista said if the hall monitor was really abused, why the hell he/she hasn’t come out on the news and let themselves be known? Because they know that the sentence for this girl was too much, and they don’t want their name connected to this tragedy of ruining a young woman’s life because of bigotry and their own irrational fear of people of color.

  17. dblhelix

    youngblackman —

    I appreciate your perspective, but getting folks elected isn’t a simple process. This past summer I worked on a campaign to get a minority candidate elected to state office in MD — a first in the district. New lines were drawn in 2002, after the 2000 census to incorporate a very conservative area to maintain majority-white status by a ratio of 51:49 (40% Black). For years, the status quo maintained power by moving around the lines.

    We went for it because we knew that the 2000 census figures are no longer accurate for the district and are now in our favor. At this point, the is no direction by which to expand without bumping into significant minority populations. Despite the favorable conditions, it was a very difficult campaign, simply because the status quo is the status quo.

    So, when I look up the demographics for this TX county, I do not see moving the needle via the electoral process. It is what it is. There have benn too many incidents in that part of TX for me to believe that the majority isn’t fine with it — and I believe the fight for equality and justice is best served via the courts at present, which is why I’ve been donating money for a civil suit in the region. Sometimes, you just have to look around you and conclude that you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time and focus on battles you have a chance of winning.

  18. Goddam, this makes me sick. My son told me about it–he saw the Facebook links. My daughter is in Houston in med school. She says the racist incidents she deals with there are overt and daily. I’ve never been a fan of Texas, (my apologies to anyone who may take offense). Someone said, “Poor little New Mexico, so far from heaven, and so close to Texas.” That pretty much sums it up for me.

  19. I have so much to say and so little time.

    I got the email from someone else in Chicago first and my mouth dried up as I read. At first when I read she bopped an old chick, I thought she deserved a punishment. When I found out it was 7 years, my mouth was opened. Then when I found out her peer, White, did not get anything but probation for an equal offensive crime, I thought it was sheerly racist and unfair treatment.

    I know the South is like this. This is no surprise ’cause I come from the dirty, dirty South. The only thing that surprises me of this story is the age of the girl and obvious blatancy. Maybe they were testing us to see how far they can get away and test the air to see if we would care about her from other regions. Nothing is happenstance. What went down in New York…it too is a lithmus and coded behavior sent out. People know they can roll all over us because we are disconnected and so individualized nothing more will happen than this in what we are doing here, really. I would be surprised to see some lawyer take it on pro-bono unless that lawyer was looking for image enhancement (free marketing). (I know I sound so jaded but I see the selfishness in legal eagles up here in DC).

    I knew they, the law enforcement nationwide were huckering down and like everywhere getting trigger happy. This whole Homeland Security funding and fear tactics of Arabs, Persians, and Immigrants from this government’s lips has gotten so many already crazy, fascist vicinities more hyped in harrassing and policing to control the less desirables. Too many rich people want to do business in China, India, and Russia to call them out eventhough they are roguish as well as our government won’t go after African warlords. Just the people south of the border that are overpopulating and can’t be controlled are the worry and ancient people from the mid-East that don’t ake no shit are the worry. We are just an eyesore to the Man because we represent unfinished business and guilt. We are not a threat though to anyone. This sentence to this young woman is a coded message to us to check ourselves and for others in law enforcement that they are tightening up.

    America just wasn’t only dealing with ethnic cleansing on their plate. Now this country is becoming more trigger happy (similar to authorized, mandidated Jim Crow) fueled by fear to get all poor people under (their) control. This sentence is a wake up call about more to dramatic sentencing and law enforcement and judicial brutality to increase.

    About that little girl hitting an elder or someone: These kids…these girls…they are out-of-control. I see it and they unfortunately need some examples. They know very little boundaries and have accepted these hyper-masculine roles in this crazy misguided age they are in in trying to be hard or self-preserving. They have little space to revere respect when they are trying to prove they are hard and belonging to the hysteria of dsyfunctional behaviors as a norm. Seven years is still to the extreme.

    When I was a kid, my ass knew better. It didn’t have to do with fear from the law. I had to fear my family for embarrassing them and disrespecting an elder, even if they were wrong and got on my nerves. I knew my boundaries and I understood that things were unfair but one day I would be bigger to protest and try to change what was unfair. These kids only know IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION and hers got her in this (unfair) mess.

  20. MICHELLE

    Ya’ll need to to get the facts straight. Her sentenced is based on HER GOOD BEHAVIOR. She is in control of when she gets out. No one knows her history with the schools because she is a juvenile and those records are not public. My understanding is that she was not an innocent child and had been in trouble many many times, but no one really knows for sure because the public does not have all of the facts in this case. How can anyone rush to judge without all the facts??

  21. Denise

    There is absolutely no excuse for the severity of this sentence, I don’t care what type of hellion this child is.

  22. MICHELLE

    Another fact to consider: Ms. Cotton was offered a plea bargain and her mother refused it. Her mother testified in court that she would not comply with any probation or any other terms set by the court. So really and truly her mother is the reason she is in TYC.
    She could of been on probation instead!!

    Denise: What do you mean by the severity of her sentence?? What was her sentence??

  23. Darrylm

    Michelle,

    These people cannot be reasoned with. They think it is fine to shove a person in a position of authority and the excuse, “if a white person did it” does not reflect the fact that this bad ass little girl (as you want to call her) did it.

  24. MICHELLE

    Darrylm:

    Thanks for the support, but I did not call her a bad a** little girl. Unfortunately she is a victim. This is how she has been brought up by her mother. She has never been shown right from wrong and now her mother is teaching her that when you get in trouble you make a BIG stink and that might get you out of trouble. Her mother is teaching her to only tell on the part of the story that will benefit her (which her mother done) and people will come running to support you.

  25. goodenuff

    I just saw this today and was absolutely disgusted and appalled, but not at all surprised. I think the judge should be given life in prison for his racism and for perverting the course of justice because of his racism. He should also be psychologically evaluated because it is clear that he is mentally unfit to be a judge or a human being!

  26. LOU

    IT’S TRUE, COTTON SHOULD NOT HAVE SHOVED…AND IT’S ALSO TRUE THE SENTENCE WAS TO EXTREME. THE COURT SYSTEM IN THIS COUNTY HAS GOTTEN AWAY WITH TOO MUCH FOR TOO LONG. THERE NEEDS TO BE DEEP AND HEAVY INVESTIGATION RIGHT DOWN TO THEIR CHOICE OF INDIVIDUALS THAT DO THESE HOME STUDIES. I’M AFRAID IT WOULD’NT BE BELIEVEABLE WHAT THEY WOULD FIND. AND IF YOU THINK ITS ALL ABOUT COLOR…PRAY FOR A INTENSE INVESTIGATION AND YOU’LL SEE PLENTY OF THE WHITE POPULATION THATS ENDURED ALOT OF SUFFERING.IT’S A MISUSE OF JUSTICE,IT’S A POWER PLAY. THERE’S ALWAYS THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY.SOME TIMES WHEN A INJUSTICE LIKE THIS OCCURS, IT CAN BE A STEPPING STONE FOR CHANGE.

  27. Furious

    I agree my son is in the system. He ran around with kids from all walks of life. They sent him to a SAFP facility for violation of probation. The kid he got busted with was white he was serving a 60 day sentence in jail for violation of probation. Both had just turned severteen. I didn’t know someone could be two places at one time. How could this kid be serving time and out calling my son asking him if he could find enough marijuana for a felony. His attorney Jesse Nickerson wouldn’t let him go before the judge, and didn’t give us pertinent information about the facility. Mr. Hamilton has filed a motion for the judge to hear how my sons case was mishandled. I don’t condone these kids behavior, but they didn’t do either kid any good. The other kid is back in trouble again, one of these days they’re gonna use him to set up the wrong people. I don’t want to think about what’ll happen to him then. The county attorney said he was going to throw the book at my son because he was still hanging with the same group. Guess what group that was. As long as he stayed in his so – called place they didn’t mess with him, but when he hung out with the other race it was another issue. He went to the races with some friends one night. I took for granted they were going one place, but went to another, the police got a call about a caucasian man, mid-thirties, dark hair, with a gun. Went straight to my son the only one of us out there. Carded him for minor in posession of cigarettes, even though the white girl who owned the car told them they were hers. What happened to the white man with the gun. Who knows, the black kid was more important. Another kid violated his probation, got 21 days in jail, made trustee, spent seven days. They put him in the same cell my son was in, waiting to be sent off. I know this kid too, he’s white his record is huge. He’s on meth. He needed help.

  28. yo all the fuck jugdes see is what color u is yo that anit even right tell me why i know this one boy who got 8 years for slef defenis aganist 5o well that messed up life a fuckin bicth ……..

  29. Furious

    The judge didn’t have anything to do with it, he wasn’t allowed to go before the judge. That lets me know the judge wasn’t at fault, it was the attorney who was at fault.

  30. Furious

    I just feel for all these kids, it shouldn’t be about black or white, or money. These kids now have got so much going against them. We should all be working together to get them where they need to be.

  31. Hi, I wrote a blog about structural/Institutional racism in the United States linking together the cases of the Jena Six trial in Louisiana, Shaquanda Cotton in Texas, and Genarlow Wilson in Georgia. It is a national phenomena that young black children are being locked away for minor crimes.

    http://www.justdemocracyblog.org/?p=627

    I think it is important to put a face on structural and institutional racism in America. It is claiming real victims, and they are getting younger by the day now that Zero-tolerance policies have come about.

    Peace,
    C.B. from Advancement Project

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