What to believe? Whom to believe? Why is this such a big deal? CNN, NBC, AOL, the Associated Press, the NAACP, ACLU, and black leaders from all over the country are in the courtroom.
Heather Ellis is 24. She was arrested almost three ago at Walmart's in Kennett, Missouri, and charged with two felony counts of assaulting police, one count of disturbing the police, one count of resisting arrest.
The Associated Press reports: "Police say in court documents that Ellis refused requests to calm down and leave Walmart's, allegedly kicking and striking policemen, while resisting arrest."
She faces up to 15 years in prison for allegedly cutting into the cashier's line.
In 2007, while still a student in college, Heather Ellis joined her cousin who was already at the front of the cashier's line. Other customers in the line objected.
Did she, or didn't she push aside a white woman's purchases on the conveyor belt? Did the white customer push Ellis first, or was Ellis the one who pushed first? There was a ruckus -- cursing, screaming, fighting. The cashier called the manager who called the police.
Pastor Jesse Bonner of the local NAACP says Police grabbed Heather Ellis's shirt. When she jerked away, they shoved her down. She sustained multiple bruises from the fall, and cuts on her arms from the tightness of the handcuffs. At the station she was made to wear someone's uniform that was soaked in urine. The police report notes that she requested a doctor, and was released to obtain medical attention for her injuries.
The affidavit obtained by the local newspaper tells a very different story. The policeman (in the affidavit) said, "I tried to convey to Heather Ellis, as best I could, that all she had to do was leave peacefully. It was incredibly and abundantly obvious that [she] had absolutely no desire and/or intention of complying.”
According to the affidavit, police attempted to arrest Ellis. She became combative -- struck one officer in the mouth causing it to bleed and kicked the other one, before she was handcuffed.
In "AFRO" (the magazine's Website), in the "New America Media" that bills itself as the "First & Largest Collaboration of Ethnic News Organizations, I read many, many comments by blacks, who strongly voice their belief that Heather did nothing wrong. Also, many, many --remarkably many -- other comments, from blacks who feel she acted over-aggressively -- saying, she's pulling the race card, creating a racial issue.
The case generated a firestorm of national controversy when the Ku Klux Klan sent threatening cards to Ellis family when the Ellis family announced they were holding a rally at the courthouse, two days before the trial began Wednesday, November 19th.
Heather's father, the Rev. Nathaniel Ellis addressed the crowd at the rally. "We are summoned here today from all over America," Ellis said, "because Dr. King, Jr., was right when he said, 'An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' Your presence here today has proved that love is thicker than hate."
"This young lady happens to be my first born daughter. The daughter of a Church of God in Christ pastor who pastors in this town and an adjoining town, who happens to be an educator. We are here to voice our outrage and to publicly say that Heather Ellis is innocent of all bogus charges and I demand that all charges be dropped and her record be expunged."
The crowd of roughly 200 people stood outside in the mist, listening to Rev. Ellis -- in the pauses chanting “No justice, no peace” Counter-protesters, standing across the street, were holding confederate flags with swastikas and skulls, shouting their protests.
Protesters and the counter-protesters are at the courthouse every day.
The attorney who represented Shawn Bell’s wife in a New York courtroom is in the Kennett courtroom. Bell was shot and killed by New York police officers the day before his wedding. Sitting near him is Dr. Boyce Watkins, founder of the "Your Black World Coalition," Professor at Syracuse University, who has told reporters, “We will be watching carefully. We will be pursuing this with the Justice Department of the State of Missouri. We will be calling Attorney General Eric Holder because the case is bigger than Heather Ellis and we know that.”
Ellis is charged with two counts of the Class C felony of assault on a law enforcement officer, one count of the Class B misdemeanor of peace disturbance, and one count of the Class A misdemeanor of resisting arrest.
Class C felony carries a punishment of up to seven years in prison, or one year in jail and a $5000 fine. or jail and a fine. Class B misdemeanor carries a punishment of up to six months in jail, or a $500 fine, or a combination of both. Class A misdemeanor carries a punishment of up to one year in jail, or a $1,000 fine or a combination of jail time and a fine.
Yes -- a storm is brewing in Kennett. The mood of the protesters, the pros and cons are ... well, I feel it's part of the media madness I've been writing about -- the media selling an event in order to sell itself. Also, it's a part of where we're at with a black president whom some people love and others hate and revile.
I think, from all the versions of the story that I've read -- Heather Ellis behaved badly. Her family is making hay while the sun shines. The media are making hay while the sun shines.
The black people's comments give me hope -- that, with our black president, the sing-song of racial injustice is changing. There's less of it, and 1000 percent more awareness of it. And that's good.
No. Don't jail her. Fine her, reasonably. Get apologies from the police and from her, and get the ACLU and NAACP, and the family, and the Dunkin County Police in a picture, with someone saying, thanks to the president and the people of the United States who elected him -- and all them reaching across to each other, shaking hands.
Am I dreaming? Well ... that's what I'm hoping for.