Black Public Scholars

November 18, 2009

Dr. Boyce Watkins – The Heather Ellis Case: All About Racism

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse University 

My mother raised me to believe that black men are supposed to stand up for black women. Heather Ellis is the woman who now faces 15-years in prison for an incident deriving from her being accused of cutting line at a Walmart. Based on my knowledge of the Heather Ellis case (and seeing the Walmart surveillance video that has not yet been released to the public), it seems difficult to argue in favor of a conviction.

I accompanied Dr. Christopher Metzler (Georgetown University), Dr. Wilmer Leon(Howard University), King Downing (Attorney with the Sean Bell Justice Project) and Elliot Millner (Legal Advisor for the Your Black World Coalition) to Kennett, MO. The trip was long, but rewarding. You can visit TheHeatherEllisCase.com to read more about the rally and how it all happened. The town shut down and took notice because they’d never seen black people come together to fight for their rights, at least not in that way.

There are some who seem to believe that if Heather cut the line, cursed at the cashier or kicked one of the officers, she should go to prison (The officer’s allegations can’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and don’t appear on any video that I’ve seen. Police reports here have questionable credibility, since King Downing has data which shows that the Kennett police are systematically biased when arresting and convicting black defendants). But after witnessing egregious and illegal behavior on the part of many non-black college students for the past 16 years (ever been to a campus frat party?), it’s interesting that most of them are let go with a slap on the wrist, but some think it’s ok to send a black woman to prison over a minor incident. If I came to most universities (including my own), had a raid on a fraternity house and chose to send students to prison over whatever contraband I found, there would be outrage.

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