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Justice Dept Intervene on Racial Tensions in Paris, TX (Public Meeting 1.29)

Department of Justice mediators are addressing racial conflict in Paris, TX after the death of resident Brandon McClelland.

Houston, TX, January 27, 2009 --( Save The Date: January 29, 2009

Lone Star Legal Aid, along with the Concerned Citizens for Racial Equality and the JustUs League, is hosting the next Department of Justice Community Relations Service meeting to address racial tensions in Lamar County. The next DOJ meeting is on January 29 at 6 p.m. at the Paris Fairgrounds Community Exhibit Center.

This is only one in a series of actions the Department of Justice (DOJ) Community Relations Service (CRS) has pledged to Lamar County in the wake of public outrage over the death of Brandon McClelland. The DOJ's CRS has responded to thousands of volatile landmark civil rights conflicts, from its work with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma, Alabama, to its recent mediation in the Jasper and Jena communities.

On September 16, 2008, motorists found Brandon McClelland's body on a two-lane county road on the outskirts of Paris. Days after his death, when family and friends traveled out to the site to place a memorial, they were shocked to discover what investigators left behind, including bone fragments, pocket change strewn 70 feet up and down both sides of the road, and beer cans. McClelland's case sparked hundreds of protestors to assemble at the Lamar County Courthouse, just around the corner from the 20-foot Confederate monument dedicated to "Our Heroes."

This is not the first DOJ intervention in Paris race relations. Two years ago, it attempted to mediate issues with Paris Independent School District (PISD), Lone Star Legal Aid and Concerned Citizens for Racial Equality over allegations of retaliatory behavior and disparities in discipline against African-American students, particularly against those whose parents lodged complaints with the Paris school district. The matter gained national attention after 14-year-old African-American freshman Shaquanda Cotton was convicted of "assault on a public servant" and sentenced to Texas Youth Commission (TYC) prison for up to 7 years.

The charges involved Cotton shoving a hall monitor at Paris High School in a dispute over entering the building before the school day had officially begun. Cotton had no prior arrest record and the hall monitor-a 58-year-old teacher's aide-was not seriously injured. Just three months earlier, a 14-year-old, white teenager, who was convicted of arson for burning down her family's house, was sentenced to probation. Cotton was released from the state detention center after one year. PISD, Lone Star Legal Aid and Concerned Citizens for Racial Equality participated in the conciliation process until PISD's attorney sent a letter to the DOJ stating they no longer desired to continue the mediation process.

At the Paris DOJ meeting on January 8, 2009, community leaders discussed cases involving harsher sentencing for African-Americans in the local judicial system, harsher discipline of African-American students by the school district, and inadequate investigations and retaliatory behavior by law enforcement concerning crimes against African-Americans. Others expressed the opinion that racial issues in Paris were the result of cultural problems, citing single parent homes, lack of mentors for the African-American children, and pregnant African-American teens. Two days after this meeting, a disabled African-American Paris resident had racial slurs and death threats written on the outside of his apartment. Paris police say it is currently under investigation. DOJ conciliators have assured Paris residents they intend to devote significant resources and time to restoring community stability.

Meeting Details
On January 29, 2009, 6 p.m. at the Paris Fairgrounds Community Exhibit Center, 570 E. Center Street, Paris, TX, Department of Justice Community Relations Service conciliators will moderate this public meeting as part of ongoing citywide dialogues to address racial conflict. The format of this meeting will give anyone an opportunity to speak.

Contact Information
Lone Star Legal Aid
Britney Jackson

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