Seven Years for Shoving?

That’s the sentence 14 year old Shaquanda Cotton received in Paris, TX after shoving a hall monitor in a dispute. Now, while readers of this site certainly would be interested in such an apparent miscarriage of justice, I don’t think it’s too much to say that this wouldn’t get much play in the national media unless there was another angle.

Shaquanda Cotton is black. Another 14 year old girl in the same town received a sentence of probation from the same judge after burning down her family’s home. The other girl is white. It would seem the charge of racism is fairly easy to make in this case. That’s certainly the angle this Trib article takes:

And then there is the case that most troubles Cherry and leaders of the Texas NAACP, involving a 14-year-old black freshman, Shaquanda Cotton, who shoved a hall monitor at Paris High School in a dispute over entering the building before the school day had officially begun.

The youth had no prior arrest record, and the hall monitor–a 58-year-old teacher’s aide–was not seriously injured. But Shaquanda 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.

“All Shaquanda did was grab somebody and she will be in jail for 5 or 6 years?” said Gary Bledsoe, an Austin attorney who is president of the state NAACP branch. “It’s like they are sending a signal to black folks in Paris that you stay in your place in this community, in the shadows, intimidated.”

However, as in most cases of this nature, things are not so neatly cut and dried. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes in this one, and this article from the local paper that focuses on the Judge and his decision ties a lot of that together. Money quotes:

County Judge Chuck Superville says he fears for the community’s safety and is calling for the national media and other organizations to investigate the facts before drawing conclusions about the Shaquanda Cotton case.

The judge said a March 12 story in The Chicago Tribune unfairly painted the community as racist and a recent protest as well as the threat of future protests by organized groups with national media coverage could “spin this thing out of control.”

Superville said he has refrained from commenting until now because of his position as the judge in the Cotton case, but that he believes he has a higher duty as county judge to maintain order in the community.

“I call on the media and others involved to go to the public record to get the facts of the case before they rush to judgment,” Superville said Saturday.

< ...>

“If Shaquanda had been white, the outcome would have been the same,” Superville said. “My decision was based on facts and law and I am confident this was the correct decision based on the facts I was presented.”

< ...>

Superville said he gave the 14-year old an indeterminate sentence up to seven years — her 21st birthday.

“Once I set the indeterminate sentence, Shaquanda holds the key to her jail cell,” Superville said. “It is up to the child and TYC.”

< ...>

“The juvenile officer said the mother refused to cooperate and said he had no reason to believe the mother would cooperate if Shaquanda received probation,” Superville said.

“That theme was repeated witness after witness—that the mother made it impossible to help Shaquanda,” Superville said. “She blamed everyone except the child for misbehavior.”

So we have a mother that refuses to hold her child accountable and, if I may indulge in a stereotype, appears to be playing the “angry black woman” card. We have the national media and organizations like the NAACP getting ahold of the story and turning it into a federal case. We have a town with apparent race issues. But none of that matters. At the end of the day, we have a now 15 year old girl who will quite possibly be in jail until her 21st birthday because everyone failed her. The system, her community, and her family. How is Shaquanda doing now? From the Trib story:

Inside the youth prison in Brownwood where she has been incarcerated for the past 10 months–a prison currently at the center of a state scandal involving a guard who allegedly sexually abused teenage inmates–Shaquanda, who is now 15, says she has not been doing well.

Three times she has tried to injure herself, first by scratching her face, then by cutting her arm. The last time, she said, she copied a method she saw another young inmate try, knotting a sweater around her neck and yanking it tight so she couldn’t breathe. The guards noticed her sprawled inside her cell before it was too late.

She tried to harm herself, Shaquanda said, out of depression, desperation and fear of the hardened young thieves, robbers, sex offenders and parole violators all around her whom she must try to avoid each day.

“I get paranoid when I get around some of these girls,” Shaquanda said. “Sometimes I feel like I just can’t do this no more–that I can’t survive this.”

Shaquanda needs someone to give her the help she’s not received from the places I listed above. Somehow I doubt playing the race card and turning this into a national Jesse Jackson/Al Sharpton media spectacle is going to get her that. On top of that, a system that allows a 14 year old with no prior record to be sentenced to 7 years in prison for shoving is seriously broken, regardless of race.

A lot of stuff is wrong in this case, and it doesn’t appear that any of it is going to get better anytime soon.

h/t: Chap. More here, including some good thoughts about the failure of the community to help Shaquanda.

  • Ted

    First, a note.

    I am an alumni of Paris High School in Paris, TX. I graduated in 1998.

    I recall a fight when I was in school involving several people, in which people used brushes and cowboy belt buckles as weapons. If I recall correctly, there were suspensions, but no jail time. This fight was back in ’97 or so.

    Funny how things change. Now a shove earns a girl 7 years in prison. 7 days is too much. Yes, she may have been wrong, but the account may not be fully correct.

    Did she shove her way past, or did she shove in retaliation for a hall monitor putting his/her hands on the girl? If so, I would say she was fairly justified.

    If she was spiteful, and shoved for no reason, or merely vocal provocation, then I say she was in the wrong, but she was failed. Failed by parents who did not advise that Offence and Self Defence are not one and the same. Failed by teachers who have forgotten what they were like as children. I am willing to bet most have been confrontational at one point in their lives. Failed by a system that reacts, to something that did not cause actual harm, by shoving her in a cell where she will learn more bad tendencies, not fix the ones she has.

    I do not know if this is a race issue. I would love to believe it is not. I have to admit, the arson case is not favorable in appearance towards it having no racial bias. But I do know it is a miscarriage of justice to an extreme degree.

  • G. Chell

    One ignorant white female Texas resident recently told my sister that if he were alive Martin Luther King would have become US President. Based on this story he did not even have prayer of becoming the Governor of Texas…unless of course all the legal residents of Texas have a change of heart and become US citizens and make the racist white Texans a minority in their state.

  • uhm

    I thought the state took children away from bad parents and put them into foster care. She looks like she has BPD. 7 years of prison is overkill.

  • Matt
  • miche
  • A Reader in the United States

    I cannot see for any justification for a judge sentencing a 14 year old girl to an “indeterminate” sentence up to 7 years for shoving a school safety official. This is regardless of the student’s prior emotional or behavorial problems. This is certainly very strange. It is also very peculiar that school officials were urging prison time for this student. I think this judge’s record (Chuck Superville) should be scruntized. If I had the power, i would remove him and I am glad the feds are investigating the school district (I hope something comes from it).