The XX Factor

If You’re a Black Woman, Cutting in Line May Get You 15 Years in Prison

My jaw fell to the floor reading this story . Three years ago, a young black woman named Heather Ellis was shopping with her cousin in a Missouri Wal-Mart. As I’ve done more than once in my life, Ellis and her cousin split up into two different checkout lines to see which would go fastest. When her cousin’s line started moving quickly, she joined him. The clerk accused Ellis of cutting in line, an argument ignited, security was called, and lo and behold Ellis, a pre-med honor student, now faces up to 15 years in prison on charges of disturbing the peace, trespassing, and assaulting a police officer. Her trial is Nov. 15.

As if the preposterous circumstances of the case and the grossly excessive charges weren’t enough, Wal-Mart has opted not to release the security tapes, which Ellis’s father argues will prove his daughter’s innocence. And when Ellis publicly protested her charges, the KKK reared its ugly head, sending Ellis threatening letters, one of which, according to this account , was delivered to her by a police officer.

Meanwhile, Syracuse professor Dr. Boyce Watkins, along with Your Black World Coalition and National Action Network, have put together a support site, , in hopes of garnering attention to the story. Those who wonder “Is racism over ?” need to look no further than Ellis’s case for the obvious answer.