Update On The Shaquanda Cotton Case

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Southwest Bureau Chief for the Chicago Tribune, Howard Witt, just contacted me with an important update about the remarkably unjust, race-motivated sentencing of Shaquanda Cotton in Paris, TX.

Just in case you haven’t heard the backstory, I’ll let Shaquanda tell you herself from the “About Me” section on her blog Free Shaquanda Cotton:

I am a 14-year-old black freshman who shoved a hall monitor at Paris High School in a dispute over entering the building before the school day had officially begun and was sentenced to 7 years in prison. I have no prior arrest record, and the hall monitor–a 58-year-old teacher’s aide–was not seriously injured. I 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 I turn 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.

Now onto the update from the Chicago Tribune:

HOUSTON — The sentences of many of the 4,700 delinquent youths now being held in Texas’ juvenile prisons might have been arbitrarily and unfairly extended by prison authorities and thousands could be freed in a matter of weeks as part of a sweeping overhaul of the scandal-plagued juvenile system, state officials say.

Jay Kimbrough, a special master appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to investigate the system after allegations surfaced that some prison officials were coercing imprisoned youths for sex, said he would assemble a committee to review the sentence of every youth in the system.

And about Shaquanda specifically…

Among the leading candidates for early release is Shaquanda Cotton, a 14-year-old black girl from the small east Texas town of Paris, who was sent to prison for up to 7 years for shoving a hall monitor at her high school while other young white offenders convicted of more serious crimes received probation in the town’s courts.

Shaquanda’s story was the subject of a March 12 Tribune article that triggered hundreds of Internet blog articles and thousands of message board postings and led to a nationwide letter-writing campaign to the Texas governor decrying perceived racial discrimination in her case.

Cotton, now 15, 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 earlier release if she achieves certain social, behavioral and educational milestones while in prison.

But officials at the Ron Jackson Correctional Complex have repeatedly extended Shaquanda’s sentence because she refuses to admit her guilt and because she was found with contraband in her cell–an extra pair of socks.

Socks? I guess Texas is like a whole other country.

This is good news people. Very good news. And I hope we’ll all continue to blog about this story so the momentum against these racist incarcerations will build and get them reversed quickly.

And apparently, we’ve already had an impact…

If you had Googled the black girl’s name, Shaquanda Cotton, the day before the story was published on the front page of the March 12 edition of the Tribune, you would have gotten zero results. On Monday afternoon, there were more than 35,000 hits.

The story has been picked up on more than 300 blogs around the country, many of them concerned with African-American affairs. It has generated thousands of postings to Internet message boards.

It was the top story on digg.com, a site that ranks Internet pages by user popularity and recommendations. It became the most-viewed and most-e-mailed story on chicagotribune.com more than a week after it was originally published, which is particularly remarkable because most news stories on the site automatically expire after just a few days.

And now the story has jumped across the ethernet into the physical world: Dozens of talk-radio stations across the nation were buzzing about Shaquanda last week, protests on her behalf were held in Paris, a petition- and letter-drive aimed at Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the judge in the case, Chuck Superville, is under way, and civil rights leaders from the NAACP and the ACLU to the Rev. Al Sharpton are weighing whether to get involved.

I leave you with three words: Free Shaquanda Cotton.