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 communityâ€™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 â€œspin this thing out of control.â€
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.
â€œI 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,â€ Superville said Saturday.
â€œIf Shaquanda had been white, the outcome would have been the same,â€ Superville said. â€œMy decision was based on facts and law and I am confident this was the correct decision based on the facts I was presented.â€
Superville said he gave the 14-year old an indeterminate sentence up to seven years â€” her 21st birthday.
â€œOnce I set the indeterminate sentence, Shaquanda holds the key to her jail cell,â€ Superville said. â€œIt is up to the child and TYC.â€
â€œThe juvenile officer said the mother refused to cooperate and said he had no reason to believe the mother would cooperate if Shaquanda received probation,â€ Superville said.
â€œThat theme was repeated witness after witnessâ€”that the mother made it impossible to help Shaquanda,â€ Superville said. â€œShe blamed everyone except the child for misbehavior.â€
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.