Just when you thought black celebrities
didn't care anymore, the "Bad Boy of Radio," Michael Baisden
announced today that he is going to give $5,000 to the legal defense fund of the family of Heather Ellis
, a 24-year old black female college student who faces 15-years in prison after cutting in line at a Walmart.
The case has drawn a firestorm of controversy, being featured on Anderson Cooper 360 last week
, as well as many other national media outlets. I am especially supportive of Michael's bold move, because he announced on the air that he is planning to support the rally that I called for on November 16
in Kennett, Missouri, the belly of the beast of racism. Given that Rush Limbaugh grew up less than 100 miles away, I've had to be seriously concerned about the safety of those coming to town.
I was especially touched by Michael Baisden's move because I was hurting over the Ellis family's financial pain. In their quest to save their daughter, the family has borrowed money that they didn't have, and tried almost everything in their power to get help. For two and a half years, their calls for help fell on deaf ears, with the exclusion of local leaders such as Rev. Jessie Bonner of the NAACP and Rev. Dwight Montgomery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. When I reached out to try to help the Ellis family, I could sense the frustration in their voices, and I could immediately tell that although local members of organizations were getting involved, their case was not getting appropriate attention from the state and national leadership of these groups. As we discussed today on CNN
, one of the challenges of African American families when confronted by the justice system is that black people do not always have the financial resources to fight the cases put before them. Therefore, thousands of citizens are sent to prison regularly or sign false plea agreements simply because they cannot afford to fight the charges. Justice should not be a commodity only available to the rich. Without the support of Michael Baisden and others who have given to the Ellis family legal defense, this case may have been one decided by the team with the largest bank account.
When I saw that Heather's case was being ignored, that is when my assistant Shauntay and I went on the prowl. Heather is the daughter of a pastor, has no criminal record and is on her way to medical school. When I looked at Heather, I saw my own sister, another pastor's daughter who went to medical school. I didn't know how much we could do for Heather, but I figured that I'd try my best. Dr. Wilmer Leon has also stepped up to the plate
, aggressively pursuing justice on this issue on his Sirius/XM Satellite Radio show, along with Elliot Millner in DC and Christopher Metzler at Georgetown University.
Well, fate worked out in our favor, as we were able to get Heather's story onto CNN
, and many other national media outlets. At that point, the leaders who seemed to forget about her case suddenly remembered who she was all over again. Michael Baisden's move was the most brilliant I've seen thus far, and for that reason, he will always have my respect.
Our rally for Heather Ellis is being held on November 16 at 11 am in Kennett, MO. Buses are coming in from all over the country, and we can show you how to organize a bus for the trip
if you want us to do so. It is critical that we present a show of force to let prosecutor Stephen Sokoloff know that we cannot allow a deranged justice system destroy a young woman's future over a disagreement in a checkout line. Some things are simply ridiculous.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.