Monday, October 12, 2009

Dr Boyce Watkins: 15 Years for Cutting Line at Walmart?

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse University, AOL Black Voices

In case you haven’t heard, there is a young woman in Kennett, Missouri who has gone through one of our worst nightmares. Three years ago, Heather Ellis was in a local Walmart shopping with her cousin. The two cousins decided to go in separate directions to find the shortest line. After seeing that her cousin’s line was shorter, Heather went to join him. That’s when things got strange.

Heather was accused of cutting line and the security guard was notified. According to Heather, she and her cousin repeatedly informed the guard that they were together, but that didn’t seem to matter. The police affidavit claims that Ellis was loud, belligerent and cursing when she was told to leave the store.

After police arrived, Ellis was taken to jail in front of her family. Her aunt, Lily Blackmon, arrived on the scene after receiving a call from her son about the incident. According to Blackmon, her niece’s head was being slammed against the police car and the officer only said “she cursed,” when asked why she was being treated so harshly.

Ellis was charged with disturbing the peace, trespassing, resisting arrest and two counts of assaulting a police officer. The young college student was then offered a plea bargain from Dunklin County Prosecutor, Stephen Sokoloff. The felony counts were reduced to one misdemeanor of disturbing the peace. However, Heather’s aunt believes that the offer was made so the family would not sue the police department.

Heather refused to take the plea deal, since she says she’d be lying if she admitted to committing a crime that day. Eleven months after the incident, the misdemeanor was surprisingly dropped. While this might seem to be good news, it wasn’t. The misdemeanors have been replaced by felony assault charges, carrying a maximum sentence of 15-years in prison.

Heather believes that the pending felonies have cost her two jobs and the chance to get into medical school. She still refuses to sign the plea deal. Either way, she has a reason to fight, and I want to fight with her. Heather’s case speaks to all of us: most of us have jumped the line at Walmart to be with a relative, and most of us know what it’s like to experience police abuse of authority. No matter how much cursing Heather might have done that day, she doesn’t deserve to go to prison. Also, if the prosecutor can reduce major felonies to one tiny misdemeanor, he could have dropped all the charges and let this woman go on with her education.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of The Your Black World Coalition. To follow Dr Boyce on Twitter, please click here.


Lady Veteran said...

I am not suprised that African American's rights are being violated! Every since President Obama has been elected there has been a backlash against people of color due to him being elected and not being in "his place."

This is supposed to be Ameerica the land of the free and the home of the brave. Being an African American Veteran I am still waiting for my rights even in 2009 to be honored and none of the Civil Right leaders have answered my pleas for help or assisted in any manner! I wish this Lady the best of Luck and hope the rest of y'all wake up! If it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us!!!!

Anonymous said...

the assault on black america continues - Rush L. and Glenn Beck will have Lou Dobbs to join them soon so the circus can continue in full technicolor 'black and white' - it will end soon though - after we all make it end through loving relations and good sense...until then I pray for good people like the woman in the story - it's too ridiculous and unjust to comment further.

surubaid said...

There are many people, especially white people, who want us to believe that since the recent election there is no more racial discrimination, I would like to be able to believe that, but it just isn't so. In actuality, it may have really increased or we've just been made more aware of it occuring moreso. Barack Obama is only one man and unfortunately without a vote. He does have the opportunity to veto anything that he completely disagrees and then must wait and see if the Congress or Senate will try to override his veto. As for the young lady who is being railroaded is simply beyond me. Even if she did all of what she was accused of she still shouldn't be going to jail for any kind of time like what has been presented on this site. Possibly some days with a fine and then it should be done with, not years of imprisonment. It's not the bus, it's us.

Anonymous said...

I have done the same thing. I would be still shopping while my daughter is waiting in check-out line. then I would arrive and put my stuff into her cart to be rung up. However no one has accused me of cutting in. Also every other word out of my mouth is not a curse word like so many of our black brothers and sisters and maybe the security was zero tolerance of that type of verbal abuse....who the heck knows??

Anonymous said...

How dare this county attorney to prosecute such a silly accusation. I've done it to.
It's not a bus boycotte, but the same type of avenue. We, black Americans better wake up and smell the coffee. Things like this is happening, regardless of what you may or may not think. Prejudice against the black people is raising it ugly head, and beware it will get uglier before better as it may appear.
Heather, God bless you for not signing.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

How do we help her?

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

Why are some white cops so sadistic and arrogant? This case isnt about the young lady skipping the line, neither is it about her assaulting a Police (skin-head) Officer. It has something to do with these evil officer's PRIDE! They along with the prosecutor had a meeting and discussed the case. They wanted to teach that black N*&^er a lesson!We got a black President and now these black folks are gonna get out of control" that was their conversation!

Anonymous said...

I've read all Comments on this page and not one person has asked the one very important question...Where are the camera in Walmart no one has thought of that. unless Walmart erased that particular incident.but I bet if someone was stealing out of there they would have that for evidence.

Anonymous said...

This incident is to appauling to comment on. I am on my knees in prayer after writing this.