What a Black Mississippi Mom Is Doing to Save Her Son From the Legal System

A Mississippi mom is legally challenging a county’s youth court system after her 10-year-old son was detained for urinating in public.

Like many elementary-school age students, Quantavious Eason could not hold his urine once the urge hit him. As the heaviness of his bladder grew on that sweltering hot day in August, his older sister reminded him of the “no public restroom” sign on the door to the law office their mother, Latonya Eason, was visiting.

In haste, Quantavious got out of his mother’s car, turned his back to the road, and relieved himself. His efforts to be discreet were short-lived when a Senatobia police officer pulled up.

The unidentified officer and Eason separately chastised Quantavious for what he did. Quantavious apologized. And just when Eason thought everything was over, three more officers and a lieutenant arrived. The officers told Eason they had to arrest the third-grader.

“We do not believe that if a white officer saw a white young boy discreetly urinating that he would have stopped to say anything to him,” Carlos Moore, the family’s attorney, told Capital B. “We are led to believe that this was just Mississippi-bred racism.”

Latonya Eason took this photo of her son Quantavious after he was placed in the back of a police car after his arrest. (Courtesy of Carlos Moore)

Latonya Eason took this photo of her son Quantavious after he was placed in the back of a police car after his arrest. (Courtesy of Carlos Moore)

The Mississippi criminal justice system has historically locked up more Black people than any other race. Throwing a Black child into this system for performing a bodily function further perpetuates how Black people are disproportionately punished, and calls into question what is going on behind the closed doors of Mississippi’s youth courts, legal experts say.

Quantavious was placed in the backseat of a marked police car and separated from his mother and sister.

Before they drove away, Latonya snapped a picture of her son.

“That image. That day. That activity is going to be indelibly stamped into his mind,” said Dominique Calhoun, president of the National Bar Association.

Quantavious is in counseling and has developed a distrust and fear of the police, Moore said.

A 10-year-old’s legal battle

For more than an hour on Aug. 10 as an officer wrote a Tate County Youth Court referral, Quantavious sat in what he described to his attorney as “a cage.” Quantavious was eventually released back to his mother.

None of the five police officers or the prosecutor assigned to Quantavious’ case used their discretion to shield him from the criminal justice system. And that’s why Moore, in part, agreed to take Quantavious on as a client for his criminal case and soon-to-be-filed federal civil rights lawsuit.

Eleven days later, the officer who initiated Quantavious’ arrest was fired, and the others who responded to the scene were disciplined, the Senatobia police chief said in a statement at the time. Capital B has reached out to the police department for further comment.

Even after that small win, the Eason family still had to go to court before the holidays in December, at which time the prosecutor gave Quantavious an ultimatum to take a three-month probation agreement or else the charge would get upgraded to disorderly conduct, Moore said.

The judge also included in the punishment for Quantavious to write a book report about the late NBA superstar Kobe Bryant.

At first, Eason was on board with signing the documents. But, when she gave the terms and conditions a closer look, she realized that her signature could put her son at risk of being treated like a career criminal and not the child he is.

“What we should be asking is why does the system put a mom in that position in the first place? If we were child-centered, and specifically, Black child-centered, why would they arrest a child when there are other avenues that could have been taken?” asked Gina Womack, the executive director for Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children.

This nonprofit, better known as FFLIC, provides families with resources and tools on how to  legally advocate and push back on behalf of their child who is involved in the juvenile justice system.

The probation requirements included Quantavious submitting to drug testing and checking in  with a probation officer. Long after he completes probation, advocates fear he may encounter roadblocks while applying to college, housing or employment because of this conviction.

To prevent that from happening, Eason refused to sign the documents and Moore filed a motion with the court to dismiss the charge.

“For LaTonya to stand up and say, ‘I’m not going to have my son go through this,’ is commendable to her. And I applaud that Black woman for doing what she’s doing,” Calhoun said.

If Moore’s request is denied, he says he’s prepared to go to trial to prove that Quantavious is not in need of government supervision.

Overdue youth court reforms

Having access to adequate legal representation is key for parents or a legal guardian to protect their child from getting tangled in the criminal justice system. In most cases, parents and children aren’t aware of the dynamics of the system and may respond to questions under duress, Andre de Gruy, the head of Mississippi’s Office of State Public Defender, told Capital B.

Eason told NBC News in an interview that she doesn’t want another child to experience what her son experienced. “No matter the color or who you are, no child should have to go through that.”

Since paying for an attorney isn’t in everyone’s budget, or finding one willing to take a case free of charge could be time-consuming, de Gruy says he will continue to advocate for funding from legislatures to create a youth defense program.

The Southern Poverty Law Center put the state’s youth court public defender system on notice in a 2007 assessment to do better with their program.

There still isn’t an established public defender system to ensure that young people have access to legal counsel regardless of their socioeconomic status, and there may be one full-time public defender who is trained to represent juvenile offenders, but has a workload of possibly hundreds of mostly Black children.

There is also a push to reform the amount of public access inside those courtrooms. Without witnesses such as other attorneys and journalists monitoring those courtrooms, advocates are concerned that there may be an unknown number of cases where parents and/or children entered into agreements without legal advice.

Quantavious is expected back in court on Feb. 5.

The post What a Black Mississippi Mom Is Doing to Save Her Son From the Legal System appeared first on Capital B News.

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