Jessica Hopper, ABC News, March 10, 2011
The alleged gang rape of an 11-year-old girl by at least 18 boys and young men has sparked shame and outrage in a tiny Texas town, but it has also stirred racial tensions that threaten to split the East Texas hamlet.
All of the defendants arrested are African-American and the girl is Hispanic.
The hardscrabble town of Cleveland, which is 45 miles from Houston, has fewer than 8,000 residents and since the saw mill closed the biggest employers are Wal-Mart and a nearby prison. In a town this small, everyone is a neighbor, but that small town ambience is being severely strained.
The rape allegedly occurred last November, and the list of suspects has been growing as arrests keep coming. It’s not clear whether more arrests are in the works.
The suspects range in age from 14 to 26, include stars on the high school’s basketball team as well as the son of a school board member.
“I feel sorry for the little girl. I feel sorry for everyone involved . . . the city is in turmoil,” Inez Dickerson [the great-grandmother of one of the suspects] said.
“I’m not going to play the race card on this because my grandson and all the rest were very young men and they could have given a second thought on this,” Dickerson said.
While Dickerson believes the flaring of racial tensions isn’t warranted, others disagree.
Houston community activist Quanell X will host a town hall meeting this evening called “What’s the real truth behind the rape allegations?”
“Every adult male that had sex with this child should go to prison, I don’t care what the color is. But I do not believe black males are the only ones that had contact with this young child,” said Quanell X, the leader of Houston’s New Black Panther Party. “It appears to me there’s only been the selective prosecution of one community, which is African American.”
Quannell X said the rally has been moved from a church to a community center because, “The church received some death threats.”
Gang Rape Charges Raise Race Tensions in Texas Town
The village has a history of racial violence. In 1988, an African American man was arrested in Cleveland for allegedly stealing a fountain pen. The man, 30-year-old Kenneth Simpson, was allegedly beaten to death by white police officers while in prison. The officers were acquitted of murder charges and returned to work.
In addition, Cleveland is embroiled in a political scandal where three city council members are facing a recall election following complaints of corruption. All three of those city council members are African American.
More than half of the town is white, with the rest of the residents split between blacks and Hispanics.
Most of the defendants have ties to Precinct 20, the nickname for the predominantly African-American neighborhood in Cleveland. The black neighborhood is sometimes referred to as “the quarters.”
Racial Tensions in Cleveland, Texas
Brenda Myers knows the girl and her family. Myers runs the Community and Children’s Impact Center in Cleveland, one of the few programs for Cleveland’s youth.
“It’s becoming a black and white issue because it happened over in the quarters. It’s segregating our community again,” Myers said. “The reaction is anger, devastation.”
[Editor’s Note: An earlier story about the rape of this 11-year-old girl can be read here.]