Is it any wonder that Black children are angry with Black adults? Is it any wonder that Black youth feel unprotected by Black adults? Is it any wonder that Black youth are out there 'getting theirs' and doing anything else they want to do? Is it any wonder that as Black adults complain about the behavior of Black youth, our behavior toward them and toward ourselves is equally despicable?
There have been others, but the case of Shaquanda Cotton, the 14-year-old girl in Paris, Texas, who was sentenced to 7 years in jail for shoving a hall monitor in school, should be the final straw for Black people all over this country. This case is especially troubling because the punishment definitely does not fit the crime, and the judge in this case also sentenced a White 14-year-old girl to probation after she was convicted of arson!
This is not an isolated incident of miscarriage of justice. More and more, we are seeing Black children being mistreated by authorities across this country, younger and younger, while we adults simply talk about it and wring our hands about it. There have been at least three cases of 5-year-old Blacks being handcuffed, disciplined and threatened by the police — one of which occurred in Cincinnati, a city in which a law exists that allows 7 year-olds to be shocked with Taser guns.
How much abuse are we willing to have heaped upon our children before we really get serious about stopping it? I was one of the few in Cincinnati to speak at City Hall in opposition to the Taser law. It did not matter. It passed, and even one Black councilman voted to pass the motion. He is the same councilman who, as he was beating his own child, said, "I'll beat the Black off you," and was arrested for it.
The recent 50-shot barrage that killed Sean Bell in New York City and the 14-year-old sister who was killed in L.A. were, I thought, the very last straws. But I also thought that about the brutal police killings of Kenneth Walker in Columbus, Ga. and Nathaniel Jones in Cincinnati. How could Black people sit idly by and allow these things to occur without shutting some cities down, the way the illegal immigrants did? How could Black men be so accepting of these and other atrocities against us?
Maybe now, because of our docility and complacency, we have arrived at a place where we can be treated in any manner by just about anyone, and the only reprisal they can expect is a two-hour demonstration. Are we really in such a disadvantaged position in this country that we are unable to prevent our daughters from suffering at the hands of racists?
What can we do? The "Free Shaquanda Cotton" petition is being circulated and signed on the Internet. Black folks should be so outraged with righteous indignation — all across this country, not just in Paris, Texas — and demand sister Cotton be released from prison. If she is not released, we must not only hit the streets but also use our dollars to obtain the victory. If we seriously withdraw our dollars from various businesses and events in this country we will not continue to be taken for granted.
There are two areas of consideration here. First, we Black adults must admit our own faults and neglect of our own children. Having exposed them to the horrors of dependence on, and vulnerability to, a society that only sees them as fodder from which to create more wealth — by way of mis-education and prison occupancy — our youth are running wild and doing all sorts of outlandish things to one another. That is our fault, and we must rectify that.
Then we must let our children know and let this society know that our children are off limits, that there is a line that cannot be crossed without a fight. We should make one collective statement in support of our children, letting this society know that we love them so much that we really would die to protect them. Are we men and women enough to do that? If your answer is yes, you can start by contacting the brothers and sisters in Paris, Texas, and join them in their struggle for justice, and help Shaquanda Cotton get out of prison. For more information on this case see: http://freeshaquandacotton. blogspot.com/
James Clingman is founder/president of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce and professor at the University of Cincinnati.