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Shaquanda Cotton Freed, Movement Begins
By: Gordon Jackson
Special to the NNPA from the Dallas Examiner
Originally posted 4/10/2007

DALLAS(NNPA-Four days after a spirited but peaceful rally, 15-year-old Shaquanda Cotton was freed from a Texas Youth Commission facility in Brownwood.

Although it ended her one-year sentence for allegedly shoving a hall monitor at her high school, it has not ended the controversy and momentum of what nationally renowned comedian Rickey Smiley calls steps toward a second civil rights movement.

“A fire cannot start without a spark,” Smiley, the leader behind the rally, said. “You’ve all started a whole movement. This is not the end.”
Two days after Cotton’s release, she celebrated with Smiley on his Dallas morning radio show.

“I feel like I have a second chance,” Cotton told The Chicago Tribune. “I think I’m a good person, but I’m going to be a better person.
Cotton later told The Dallas Examiner:

“If it wasn’t for our people making this public, I would still be there.”
Cotton’s release was made possible by a collaborative effort between State Representative Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Chair of the House Juvenile Justice Committee and Jay Kimbrough, the newly appointed TYC conservator, appointed by Governor Perry to investigate the scandal within the agency of several inmates being sexually and physically abused.

Cotton’s sentencing was first reported by The Chicago Tribune on March 12 and rapidly spread among the African American internet blogging community. Upon learning of the story, Smiley used his radio show to campaign for her release.

Smiley’s studio at KBFB 97.9 The Beat was packed with Cotton’s friends, family and supporters as they spoke of what her story means to the status of African Americans and the judicial system. The unraveling of details placed accountability and responsibility not only on Paris’ alleged racially charged environment, but also on the strength of Black leadership.

Shaquanda’s mother Creola, refuted several segments of previous reports, including whether Shaquanda even shoved the hall monitor. “She did not do what she’s accused of doing. I don’t care what they put in the newspaper,” Creola said. Despite Shaquanda’s blog ( stating that she shoved a hall monitor, Creola and her daughter both claimed it was the other way around.

“They charged her with pushing a hall monitor. She didn’t,” Creola told The Dallas Examiner. “Shaquanda was the one that was injured. They didn’t assist her with any medical needs or anything. They just let her sit there. She had a contusion on her forehead, a small laceration on the palm of her hand and a strained neck. And we have the medical records to prove it. She was pushed into a metal door and that was when she hurt her head.”

Shaquanda often received written reprimands on trivial matters Creola said regarding reports that she was constantly getting in trouble in school.

“After they arrested her, they started writing her up five times a day,” Ms. Cotton said. “Then when it was time for her trial, that was her criminal record, those write-ups.

She got written up once for raising her hand to tell the teacher she was cold, for pouring too much paint in a cup…for turning her head toward the window, she got write-ups.”

Creola Cotton denied there was ever an offer of probation for Shaquanda that she reportedly refused, causing Judge Chuck Superville to sentence her.

“That is not true and we have the documents to prove it,” she said, stating that her daughter was never offered probation and did nothing to deserve a year’s sentence. “Shaquanda has maintained her innocence through everything,” Creola said.

So how does a lawyer allow a 13-year-old to be sentenced to an indefinite term of incarceration for something that generally is resolved by alternative education or in school suspension? Shaquanda said she and her mother met her attorney five minutes before her hearing.

“I don’t think he did a good job. I think we could have gotten better assistance,” she said.
Creola also countered her being labeled an irresponsible parent by a spokesperson for Judge Superville and District Attorney Gary Young.

“What they mean by being irresponsible is because I challenged any of the write-ups the school had. I felt I was doing what a good parent would do if their children are having a problem in school, you go see what it is,” Creola said. “They have a procedure that you follow where you fill out paperwork just to see the superintendent. This is why they’re saying I’m an unfit mother, because I filed complaints.

“I have no history of drinking or drugs or any kind of abuse. It’s because I filed so many complaints against the school and the police department that [they felt] Shaquanda didn’t need to be in my care because [they said] I was teaching her hate and not adhering to White authority.”

Brenda Cherry, a family friend and president of Concerned Citizens for Racial Equality, said the same thing is happening to other African American students, with prospects of it taking place even more.

“It’s worse now rather than better. They’re angry because Shaquanda was released,” Cherry said. What they did to Shaquanda Cotton, I think it’s just another form of a public lynching. They used her write-ups as criminal record. They’re using one-sided evidence; at least they did with Shaquanda.

“There is a lot of retaliation in Paris. If you speak out, you will get retaliated against, one way or another, even by the police department or by the school district,” she continued.
“Now, what you’re saying is, by them being angry because Shaquanda was released, they’re going to retaliate against the other Black students?” Smiley asked.

“Another student may be put on OCS (On-Campus Suspension) because he attended the march and was quoted in the Paris News,” Cherry responded.

Shaquanda described her year in the Ron Jackson Correctional facility.
“I didn’t like it there. I had to take a lot of stuff from the girls,” she said. “They pushed me and bumped into me. I just had to sit there and deal with it. Some of the guards tried to help me out, but others didn’t care and they would write me up for stuff I wasn’t doing.

Despite her difficult situation Shaquanda was determined to stay strong, “I said (to myself) that my family’s depending on me.”
Smiley said Shaquanda’s behavior record is academic; the punishment still didn’t meet the crime.

“This girl was assaulted and they would not even allow the mother to press charges against the school official that assaulted her,” he said.” I don’t give a damn what they found on her school record. She was 14, I bet she wasn’t badder than me. You ought to see my school record. I was crazy as hell.”

School board trustee Ron Price expressed disappointment at the Black leadership in North Texas.

“We come up with too many lame excuses as a race to fight for justice until we’re in trouble,” Price said. “Then we have the audacity - but don’t have the intestinal fortitude - to stand up for our right as a people.”

Casey Thomas, president of the Dallas NAACP branch, called in on Smiley’s show stating that the state NAACP office has been on the case.

“The NAACP on the state level has been working this case for over a year. I don’t know how may people were aware of that information or not,” Thomas said.

“Back in March 2006, when the verdict was first given, then the sentence, the NAACP began working on this case.”
Cherry, however said the representation for the Paris branch took an opposite position.

“Shaquanda sat in prison for over a year. We went down to the local NAACP, Creola asked for assistance and she was denied that,” Cherry said. “It was only when it was time for Shaquanda to get out, then they put an article in the local paper saying that they wanted her released. You don’t help until it’s all over.

“To me, the NAACP should work as a well-oiled machine and all should work together. You can’t have the local NAACP fighting against her then the Texas NAACP helping her. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Thomas said he couldn’t speak for the Paris officers, but: “I stand behind any movement of justice irregardless of how anybody else feels about it, if the facts are there.”

Cherry stated denial of racist practices in the northeast Texas city of 26,000 by many of the 5,000 Blacks, as one obstacle for change in the city.

It’s like living in a different time period, Cherry said. “Until we stand up and stand together, it’s not going to get any better. Black people need to stop being afraid. Those few Black people who say there is no racism, if they feel there’s none, then God bless them. But they should not try to stop the others who do have issues and are speaking out.”

Bobbie Edmonds is part of a team of attorneys that will look into the racial climate in Paris.

“My contribution would be to make sure that there were violations to civil rights, violations of school district policies, to see if there needs to be any monitoring of the disciplinary tactics that were used,” Edmonds said.

“There needs to be a move to make our school board members and elected officials accountable to the safety of our school and the children in the school system. The tax dollars that pay for the in-house counsels of the school district, it’s our tax dollars that help pay for it.”

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