In honor of Halloween around the corner, here’s a story that might scare the hell out of you. Heather Ellis, a young college honor student and soon to be in medical school, was waiting in a Wal-Mart store in Kennett, MO three years ago with her cousin. When her cousin found a shorter line and Ellis went to stand there as well, she was accused of cutting. When Ellis refused to sign a plea agreement for charges including disturbing the peace, trespassing and assaulting a police officer, she was slapped with felony charges. Now she could be facing 15 years in prison if she is sentenced. Members of the community and members of the KKK have protested and attempted to intimidate Ellis and her family.
Ellis’ horrifying experience reminds young people of color that the things they do often run the risk of having far more extreme consequences as a result of racist communities around them. It’s completely absurd and difficult to swallow, but it feels like the only way to go unnoticed by a legal system that is still influenced and guided by racism is to act perfectly all the time – even when agitated or frustrated or angry or humiliated. Reacting to those feelings has a much higher price for people of color in some communities than white folk.
All I can say readers is, be careful where you cut in line if you’re a young black woman. You may be doing something children do all the time in school lunch lines, but you could wind up in prison. You may have someone waiting in line and be joining them, like people do every day, but you could end up being charged for assaulting an officer as a result. You may be on your way to medical school, but you’re still going to be risking your future if you shop at a racist Wal-Mart. You may be in the United States hoping that justice will be on your side, but your family may still end up getting threatening letters from the KKK. You may be supposedly living in the post-racial world, but that world is still going to look pretty racist and hateful.
Sign the petition to help Ellis here.