Creola Cotton (left) and Shaquanda Cotton
> >> By Tracy Stokes, BET.com News Staff & Wire Services
> >> Posted March 28, 2007 - In Paris, Texas, last year, a
> >> 14-year-old White girl burns down her family's home. Her punishment?
> >> Probation. In the same town three months later, a 15-year-old Black
> >> girl, Shaquanda Cotton, is sentenced to seven years in prison for
> >> pushing a hall monitor at her high school.
> >> Shaquanda had no prior arrests, and the monitor, a 58-year-old
> >> teacher's aide, was not hurt, according to Black leaders in the
> >> northeast Texas town of about 26,000 residents. But in March 2006, the
> >> same judge, Lamar County Judge Chuck Superville, who let the White
> >> teenage girl go on probation, convicted Shaquanda of "assault on a
> >> public servant" and sent her to prison at least until she turns 21.
> >> Officials at the Texas Youth Commission declined to discuss the
> >> case with BET.com, citing Texas law.
> >> "State law forbids us from acknowledging whether we have any
> >> youths are in our system, despite the 50 million issues of print that's
> >> been run," said Jim Hurley, a spokesman for the Texas Youth Commission.
> >> "We'd have to break the law to talk about it."
> >> Civil Rights Uproar
> >> While the U.S. Department of Education is investigating the
> >> incident, the case has civil rights groups in an uproar.
> >> "I don't understand the judge's rationale for his decision," Dr.
> >> Howard Anderson, president of the San Antonio Branch of the NAACP, told
> >> BET.com.
> >> In highlighting what he called an egregious miscarriage of
> >> justice in a town with a long history of civil rights abuses, Anderson
> >> pointed to the case of the 14-year-old convicted arson (whose name was
> >> not released because of her age), who was slapped with probation, and
> >> the case of a 19-year-old White man in Paris, convicted of killing a
> >> 54-year-old Black woman and her 3-year-old grandson with his truck. The
> >> latter, he said, was also sentenced to probation and told to send the
> >> family a Christmas card every year.
> >> "Then you have Shaquanda's case," Anderson said. "She pushed a
> >> hall monitor, and she gets seven years confinement? If I look at all
> >> three of these sentences, and I'm not a lawyer, I have to wonder what
> >> the judicial system is doing. In this particular case, what is this
> >> judge doing?"
> >> Gary Bledsoe, an Austin attorney who heads the state NAACP
> >> branch, told BET.com that Shaquanda was merely trying to defend
> >> "All she (Shaquanda) did was grab the aide to prevent a strike,"
> >> Bledsoe said. "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."
> >> Sad History
> >> And keeping Blacks in their place is nothing new in Paris, say
> >> leaders, who remind that it's the site of the first highly publicized
> >> lynching of a Black by a large White mob. In 1893, fugitive Henry White
> >> was captured in Arkansas and brought to Paris, where he was tortured
> >> burned alive on a train bed as more than 10,000 angry townsfolk cheered
> >> and jeered.
> >> Activists say that the Shaquanda sentence is nothing more than a
> >> modern-day lynching.
> >> Cotton has been incarcerated at a youth prison in Brownwood,
> >> Texas, for the last year on a sentence that could run until her 21st
> >> birthday. But like many of the other youths in the system, she is
> >> eligible to earn early release if she achieves certain social,
> >> behavioral and educational milestones while in prison.
> >> But according to The Chicago Tribune, officials at the Ron
> >> Jackson Correctional Complex repeatedly have extended Shaquanda's
> >> sentence because she refuses to admit guilt and because she reportedly
> >> was found with contraband in her cell - an extra pair of socks.
> >> "She's not admitting any guilt, because she doesn't feel that
> >> she did anything," Anderson told BET.com. "Not to mention, who saw the
> >> pushing, if it did occur?"
> >> Cotton's mother, Creola, who Anderson describes as
> >> "strong-willed," said her daughter was singled out because she accused
> >> the school district of racism on several occasions.
> >> In fact, 12 discrimination complaints have been filed against
> >> the Paris Independent School District in recent years. District
> >> officials dispute the charges, but the U.S. Department of Education,
> >> which is still investigating the case, has reportedly asked the U.S.
> >> Department of Justice to get involved.
> >> In 1998, Paris, Texas, was named the "Best Small Town in Texas"
> >> by Kevin Heubusch in his book The New Rating Guide to Life in America's
> >> Small Cities.
> >> *****FORWARD THIS ON TO AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE!!!
> >> WE NEED TO BRING THESE INJUSTICES TO LIGHT*****
> >> Show your support for Shaquanda.
> >> Write a letter to Congress.
> >> Free Shaquanda: Make A Difference
> >> Please cut, paste and sign the letter below.
> >> Send a message of support to elected officials on behalf of
> >> Shaquanda.
> >> Dear Elected Official,
> >> I am writing to request your intervention on behalf of Shaquanda
> >> Cotton. She is a 15-year-old African-American teenager from Paris,
> >> Texas, who is serving a seven-year prison term for pushing a hall
> >> monitor at her high school in 2005. No injuries were reported in the
> >> incident.
> >> Lamar County Judge Hon. M.C. Superville sentenced Cotton in 2006
> >> to an indefinite term at Texas' Ron Jackson Correctional Complex. The
> >> girl, who was 14 when she was imprisoned and has no prior arrests, has
> >> to now live with violent juveniles with serious felony convictions.
> >> Both the Department of Education and the Department of Justice
> >> are conducting investigations into several allegations of
> >> against the girl's school district, says Cotton's mother. She has filed
> >> a complaint of her own against the school. Highlighting the unfairness
> >> in this case is another verdict: Judge Superville sentenced a White
> >> teenager to probation for arson, a much more serious offense.
> >> The Cotton family reports that she is depressed and has
> >> attempted to hurt herself three times in prison. A guard at the
> >> where she is serving her sentence has also been accused of molestation.
> >> Please take the time to at least investigate this case and
> >> decide if a seven-year sentence is indeed unusual and extreme under the
> >> circumstances stated. If so, please stand up in the name of justice and
> >> fairness for Shaquanda and, as a result, all of America's children.
> >> the many supporters of Shaquanda Cotton across the country trying to
> >> bring the teenager back home. It is our responsibility as Americans to
> >> fight for an impartial judicial system that we can trust will ensure
> >> rights and well-being of all of our citizens.
> >> Counting on Your Support,
> >> Sign Your Name Here
> >> Are you interested in reaching out to Shaquanda? You can write a
> >> directly to her at the address below:
> >> She also receive mail here:
> >> Ron Jackson Correctional Complex,
> >> Unit 2, Dorm 4
> >> P.O. Box 872
> >> Brownwood, Texas 76804
> >> 1125308
> >> Protest letters can also be sent to Judge Chuck Superville, who
> >> handed down the sentence at the address below:
> >> Honorable M.C. (Chuck) Superville, Jr., Judge
> >> Lamar County Courthouse
> >> 119 North Main
> >> Paris, TX 75460
> >> Phone # 903-737-2410
> >> Fax # 903-785-3858
> >> --
> >> C. Jackie Jackson
> >> Executive Director
> >> Girls Incorporated of the Greater Peninsula
> >> 1300 Thomas Street, Suite C
> >> Hampton, Virginia 23669
> >> "Inspiring all girls to be strong, smart & bold"
> >> (757) 722-6248 (phone)
> >> (757) 722-6249 (fax)
> >> www.girlsinc.org
> (national site)
> >> www.girlsincgreaterpen.org
> >> (local)