We freed Shaquanda Cotton.

Now what? I think folks recognize exactly why this happened, and what our role was as black bloggers. But there are a couple of points that I think need to be driven home.

  1. Our rights as citizens are not based on our behavior.
  2. Freeing Ms. Cotton was only part of the battle.

I’m going to actually go in reverse order. Although we dealt with Ms. Cotton, it is important that we recognize that while this was about Ms. Cotton, this was about an issue that is much larger–juvenile justice. The prison Ms. Cotton was sent to was the worst juvenile prison in the state of Texas, and in bringing Ms. Cotton’s case to light all of the other issues–kids having their sentences increased for petty infractions, prison officials committing rampant sexual assault, etc.–come to light as well. At our best, what we should be doing is using individual cases to shed light on the bigger issues, to make systemic change.

Along these lines in a discussion on Prometheus 6, Temple 3 had this to say about the Cotton case. The most important part below:

The tactical approach will likely require some modification – but as a preliminary recommendation, I would certainly recommend a two-pronged strategy:

1) Blogging in support of directing resources to support Ms. Cotton and other TYC youth who will be released and need support. The resources (financial, technological, etc.) should be administered locally and focused on critical areas likely to yield the greatest benefit.

2) Dissecting the statewide juvenile justice process in TX to identify the appropriate levers…this work should likely be extended to other states where similar issues are at work. It’s spotlight time.

The first component of this would not take much blogging work. There is at least one expert who could talk about this quickly in an entry or two and likely already has. The second component of this would take a little bit more…but those of us with academic resources can probably do some digging here.The primary components of open source politics are transparency, accountability, and agency. To the degree we can remove the sheets, and call officials out, we return the power back to citizens, and citizen cells. Further we reduce the need for people like Jackson and Sharpton (Sharpton planned a protest to free Cotton for next week!).

Our rights as citizens are not based on our behavior.

Within black space the biggest problem we face is neo-accommodationism. A newer version of the ideological framework that guided Booker T. Washington and others during the turn of the 20th Century, it is primarily based on the idea that black people can advance their interests gradually by adopting contemporary American norms and practices to perfection. When extra-ordinary politics do take place on behalf of one person, that person’s behavior should be absolutely unassailable according to middle class American norms.

Take the Montgomery Bus Boycott. If you recall, Ms. Parks was not the only woman to refuse to give up her seat. There were several before her. But Ms. Parks was chosen because she had no character flaws that people (black or otherwise) could use against her.

All the talk about whether Ms. Cotton was “really innocent” wasn’t based on her actual record as much as it was on putting forth the idea that she was a bad-ass kid who deserved what she got. And as soon as this bad-ass kid label is applied, the discussion moves away from systemic issues, and to more personal issues (like whether Ms. Cotton’s mom is raising her right). We’ve got to fight this rhetorical move whenever we see it, because at best it demonizes working class black men and women, and at worst it renders us incapable of advancing progressive political interests.

In Part 2 I’ll talk about what black bloggers can and should do to continue the momentum.