NAACP reviews Cotton situation
By Mary Madewell
The Paris News
Published March 25, 2007
The Paris Branch of the NAACP called for a timely release of Shaquanda Cotton from the Texas Youth Commission after a four-hour executive committee meeting Saturday.
The group also asked that an emergency item be placed on Monday night’s Paris City Council agenda to consider naming a diversity task force.
The group also called for an expedited appeal of the Cotton case by the Texarkana Court of Appeals in motions approved unanimously by nine board members at Saturday’s meeting.
Tensions have mounted here in recent days since a Chicago Tribune article appeared March 12 about the Cotton case. … ************
To some in Paris, sinister past is back
In Texas, a white teenager burns down her family’s home and receives probation. A black one shoves a hall monitor and gets 7 years in prison. The state NAACP calls it `a signal to black folks.’
By Howard Witt
Tribune senior correspondent
Published March 12, 2007
PARIS, Texas — The public fairgrounds in this small east Texas town look ordinary enough, like so many other well-worn county fair sites across the nation. Unless you know the history of the place.
There are no plaques or markers to denote it, but several of the most notorious public lynchings of black Americans in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries were staged at the Paris Fairgrounds, where thousands of white spectators would gather to watch and cheer as black men were dragged onto a scaffold, scalded with hot irons and finally burned to death or hanged.
Brenda Cherry, a local civil rights activist, can see the fairgrounds from the front yard of her modest home, in the heart of the “black” side of this starkly segregated town of 26,000. And lately, Cherry says, she’s begun to wonder whether the racist legacy of those lynchings is rebounding in a place that calls itself “the best small town in Texas.”
“Some of the things that happen here would not happen if we were in Dallas or Houston,” Cherry said. “They happen because we are in this closed town. I compare it to 1930s.”
There was the 19-year-old white man, convicted last July of criminally negligent homicide for killing a 54-year-old black woman and her 3-year-old grandson with his truck, who was sentenced in Paris to probation and required to send an annual Christmas card to the victims’ family.
There are the Paris public schools, which are under investigation by the U.S. Education Department after repeated complaints that administrators discipline black students more frequently, and more harshly, than white students.
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.” …