Why is Shaquanda Cotton in Prison?

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Shaquanda Cotton, 15, of Paris Texas, is entering the second year of a 7-year prison term for pushing a hall monitor at her high school 2005. Reportedly, there were no serious injuries in the incident and this was her first arrest. Cotton is black. The same judge had recently sentenced a white teenager to probation for arson.

During her imprisonment, Cotton has tried to seriously hurt herself three times. She says she is depressed and afraid of the other girls, most of whom have prior criminal records and serious felony convictions. She told Chicago Sun-Times reporter Howard Witt:

"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."

A guard at the prison where she is being held is accused of molesting four girls. The board responsible for overseeing the Texas juvenile justice system amid charges that they covered up sex abuse scandals in several of the facilities it oversees.

Cotton's supporters say that her case reflects a long-standing pattern of racist treatment in a town whose best-known landmark is the public fairgrounds where black men were routinely lynched as white spectators cheered. The court and prosecutors reportedly denied a Chicago Tribune reporter's request for comment.

Cotton's mother 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 school district in recent years. School district officials dispute the charges, but the US Department of Education, which is still investigating, has reportedly asked the US Department of Justice to investigate.

Meanwhile, Mother at Chittlins and Chopsticks has issued a call to action:

"Mothers Unite!
(fathers, brothers, sisters,uncles, aunties, cousins, too)

I can't stand to see this child suffer like this. She's already been in that hell hole a year. We must do something..."

Here's what's being done:

1. Messages of support are being solicited at Shaquanda's blog.

2. She also receive mail here:
Ron Jackson Correctional Complex,
Unit 2, Dorm 4
P.O. Box 872
Brownwood, Texas 76804
1125308

3. A Facebook group has been created. In addition to the news and discussion generated there, the group has held a networked prayer vigil for Shaquanda.

4. Paula Mooney is urging that protest letters be sent to Judge Chuck Superville, who handed down the sentence:

Honorable M.C. (Chuck) Superville, Jr., Judge
Lamar County Courthouse
119 North Main
Paris, TX 75460
Phone # 903-737-2410
Fax # 903-785-3858

5. Letters can also be sent to Texas Gov. Rick Perry through his website.

Cross-posted at Professor Kim's News Notes

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