Felony Charges Dropped Against Young Undocumented Student at Heart of Immigration Debate

A nearly three-year legal battle has come to an end for a young undocumented immigrant whose 2010 arrest sparked a national debate over U.S. immigration policy, particularly the right of undocumented immigrants to attend public universities.

Thursday, a Cobb County, Georgia, judge dismissed a false-swearing charge against the now 23-year-old Jessica Colotl stemming from her arrest on March 29, 2010. A Kennesaw State University (KSU) police officer stopped Colotl, a KSU student, for a traffic infraction on campus. She was arrested the following day after failing to produce for authorities a valid driver’s license.

Colotl’s case has been widely publicized nationally, drawing renewed attention to the use of 287(g) programs, which allow local police agencies to enforce immigration law and detain suspected undocumented immigrants.

She remained in an immigration detention center for 37 days before she was granted a deportation deferment to finish her college coursework.

Last year, JJIE, partnering with Cartoon Movement, published a piece of comics journalism detailing Colotl’s story and titled “Jessica Colotl: In the Eye of the Storm,”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Colotl, who graduated from KSU in 2011, is working as a legal assistant.

Former CDC Director Says NRA “Terrorized” Gun Violence Researchers

The Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) has published numerous studies analyzing firearms-related deaths and injuries data, but over the last 16 years, the NCIPC hasn’t conducted a single study exploring why such acts of violence take place.

The reason, several former CDC directors say, is because pro-gun lobbyists made the topic of gun violence research forbidden through several measures adopted in the mid 1990s.

In 1996, several legislators co-sponsored an amendment that would cut the CDC’s budget, with a House Appropriations Committee adopting an additional amendment that prohibited CDC funding “to advocate or promote gun control.” Eventually, $2.6 million was removed from the CDC’s budget -- the exact amount that the NCIPC spent on firearms injuries studies a year prior.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has long been critical of the CDC, with NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre recently telling the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) that he believed the agency was promoting a political agenda through the NCIPC in 1995.

Other gun proponents agreed. Former Georgian congressman Bob Barr -- a member of the NRA board -- said that firearms violence is “nothing CDC should be involved in.”

“It has nothing to do with health,” he is quoted by the AJC. “I don’t think when the CDC was created there would by any contemplation that they would be studying firearms as a health issue.”

Several ex-CDC directors, however, claim that gun lobbyists have effectively eliminated any possibility of meaningful firearms research studies being conducted today, with former director of NCIPC Mark Rosenberg going as far as to say that “the scientific community has been terrorized by the NRA.

Dr. David Satcher, a CDC director when the budget cuts and amendments were passed, said that the restriction of research serves as a threat to both public health and democracy.

“It is sad when you really think about it,” he is quoted by the AJC. “We are in an environment when children are dying and we are playing political games.”

Today, researchers financed by the CDC are required to contact the agency when planning to publish firearms-related research. The CDC then forwards the information to the NRA “as a courtesy.”

RAND Corp.’s Arthur Kellermann said that now, the number of gun violence studies being published is just a fraction compared to the research released prior to the mid-1990s CDC budget cuts and amendments.

“It is almost impossible today to get federal funding for firearm injury prevention research,” he is quoted by the AJC. “I have to acknowledge that the (NRA) strategy of shutting down the pipeline of science was effective.”

Photo courtesy of Mike Saechang via Flickr.

Choosing to Stay and Fight For Kids in Trouble

"What happened in your life that made you a passionate advocate for kids?"

When Jane Hansen, Information Officer for the Georgia Supreme Court, asked me this question last week during an interview, I thought, "Whoa -- the question assumed something happened to me."

Now I am paranoid -- what does she know that I don't? I have known Jane going way back to my days as a parole officer when she was a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution -- she has a keen sense of things.

This "happening" resides in the recesses of my mind, something that rises to the surface from time to time when triggered by an event, song, or a question.

My Dad's work transferred us to a small town in Kansas between my third and fourth grade years. It was the first day of school -- I was nervous more than most on the first day -- I didn’t know anyone.

We started the day with the Pledge of Allegiance. I noticed a boy sitting toward the front who remained seated during the pledge. He didn’t utter a word. The teacher to my amazement didn't admonish him to stand and take part.

As it goes with kids, I had bigger worries on my first day and soon forgot about this act of defiance -- until the next day. Again the boy didn't stand. Now I was getting curiously frustrated in that 10-year-old way. Why does he get to stay seated while the rest of us have to stand? That's not fair I thought to myself. I was getting angry.

Consider what we were going through in those years of the Cold War. It was circa 1966. During school, we would sometimes be paraded out of class and into the hallways when the "attack" bell sounded. Then we would stand face forward to the wall with our hands behind our heads. All this was in hopes of surviving the impact and aftermath of the impact of a nuclear missile bearing the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union.

In my world at age 10, this boy was a communist sympathizer!

It turns out I wasn’t the only one who thought this.

When school let out that day, I ran into what I thought at first glance was a schoolyard fight. But no, it was three boys beating and kicking the communist sympathizing "he deserves to get his butt kicked" Pledge-of-Allegiance-refusing student.

In my state of confusion, I didn’t know whether to stand there or run away? I certainly wasn't thinking about helping a communist!

In my moment of indecision I hesitated just long enough to look down and see this boy's face, and than his eyes made contact with mine. In what seemed like minutes, he reached out his hand to me with tears flowing from his eyes and said with a screeching cry, "Help me."

I ran!

I kept running until I reached that one safe place -- my bedroom.

My Mom noticed at dinner that I was quiet and asked me if I was OK. I told her I was fine, but I couldn’t get the boy's plea for help out of my head. I finally spoke up and told her about the boy and how he refused to stand and pledge the flag. I asked her if he was a communist.

"No," she replied. "He is a Jehovah Witness."

Mom explained that the boy wasn't disrespectful, but that his Christian beliefs forbid saluting.

"Jehovah Witnesses are very respectful of government," she explained. "They pay taxes and obey the laws," but what Mom said next pierced my heart.

"In his world of thinking he is placing the flag above God. No person should be forced to suffer that trauma."

I went to bed that night mulling over my Mom's words. The more I looked at it through the boy's eyes, the more I felt guilty and ashamed. Guilty for assuming he was bad, ashamed for running.

He was beaten to a pulp because he was different and it didn't matter even if he was a commie. He didn't deserve to be beaten.

I cried that night and Mom heard it. She came in and I told her the rest of the story of my shame and guilt. She held me in her arms and said she was proud that I felt ashamed and counseled me to do something about it.

I promised myself that night -- alone and crying in the bedroom – that I would never run again. And so, I made friends with that boy.

It was difficult to re-live that moment with Jane -- my voice breaking, cracking, and my fingers pressing against my watery eyes to hold back a complete break-down. But I've always known that it defined my existence to be an advocate.

I chose my path of advocacy at age 15. I knew then I would go to law school. I have traveled a road that has taken me to a place that many think unlikely for an advocate -- the judicial bench. After all, judges wear robes and sit on a bench, hear evidence, respond to objections, decide cases, research the law, and draft orders -- what more is there to judging?

The answer, I think, depends on what that judge decides to do when he or she takes off the robe. The key question is, "What can I do off the bench to become more effective on the bench?" After all, the Judicial Canons encourage us to "engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice."

I don’t have to leave my Georgia backyard to find judicial advocates working to improve juvenile justice in their communities through collaboration and innovative programming. But only so much can be done without the resources needed to make a difference in the lives of kids with childhood trauma leading to delinquent behaviors.

Gov. Nathan Deal is cognizant of these limitations and wants change that will tear down the walls that keep us moving forward.  So, he created a reform council and gave them the tools to delve keenly into what works and what doesn't -- analysts from the Pew Trust Center and Annie E. Casey Foundation.

No matter how it turns out, I am thankful for my governor's leadership to seek reform, my colleagues on the council for their dedication, and my fellow Georgia judges for their "off the bench" advocacy.

At least I know we are not running from kids in trouble. We are staying to fight!

The Glee Effect: Singing Teens Do Better in School

Students are finding musical inspiration from shows like “Glee” and “The Sing-Off” and studies show that singing kids do better in school and are more diverse. Ninety percent of educators believe singing in a choir can keep some students engaged who might otherwise be lost, according a nationwide study.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution profiled Marist High School in Atlanta, which has caught “The Glee Effect” where stereotypes are being broken. A variety of students, from teens who play sports to more reserved teens, are participating in school choirs.

Thirty-one percent of kids between 8 and 18 say that movies like Disney’s “Camp Rock” and shows like “Glee” make them want to get involved in music making, according to a recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive.

The benefits of teens singing also extend to school success. Sixty-four percent of parents whose children sing say their kids get all or mostly A’s in English and other language arts classes, according to the Chorus Impact Study conducted by Chorus America. Only 43 percent of parents with children who don't sing report the same high grades.

The study also found:

  • 57 percent of children who sing improved in math.
  • About 70 percent became more self-confident, had better memory skills and self-discipline.

Check out this teen singing group from NBC's "The Sing-Off:"

Nine Girls Arrested for Gang Activity in Peachtree City

Nine girls, all 13 to 15 years old, were arrested for gang activity Wednesday morning at their Fayette County schools, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The girls were turned in by other students who reported to school officials that the girls were making threats and wearing pink and black clothes.

Peachtree City police were already tracking the girls for allegations of bullying, beating in new gang members, carrying weapons and apparently sharing information on Facebook.

Investigators are increasingly monitoring social media websites to track gang activity, as we reported last month. Surveys across the country also show a nationwide trend of girls getting arrested more often than boys.

Miley Cyrus Bong Video Sparks New Debate About Salvia Drug

Interest in the hallucinogenic drug salvia exploded this weekend when a video of teen pop sensation Miley Cyrus using salvia hit the Internet Friday.

Salvia divinorum is a member of the sage family and users smoke it like a cigarette, chew it, or smoke it in a pipe or bong. It’s legal for adults in the state of California, where Cyrus was videoed inhaling it through a bong. The video comes from

Sales of the substance have tripled since the video went public, according to Fox News. Now there’s new talk about banning salvia, which is already illegal in 15 states including Georgia.

Georgia law O.C.G.A. ß 16-13-72 reflects ambivalence about the drug. The law enacted in July prohibits the possession, planting, cultivating, growing or harvesting of salvia, but it’s still legal to plant salvia for “aesthetic, landscaping or decorative purposes.”

"I think it's a dangerous drug, no doubt about it…[but] we don't want grandma to have to tear it out of her front yard," Rep. John Lunsford, the lawmaker behind making salvia illegal in Georgia, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Thousands of YouTube clips show teens using the drug, which produces an intense high that causes illusions, uncontrollable laughter and slurred speech among other things. The effects last 5 – 15 minutes and do not significantly increase heart rate or blood pressure, according to a Johns Hopkins study, which is why some feel the drug is relatively harmless.

This is a cautionary tale for teens that record video of themselves. According to, a friend recorded Cyrus while celebrating her 18th birthday. The video was stolen or copied, leaving Cyrus stuck with some explaining to do.

Gangs Use Social Networking to Mark Their Turf

Teens in gangs are using sites like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter to glamorize their activities and carry on gang wars. In several cases, gang members use these sites to track down and confront rivals by following them on Twitter or checking out their Facebook page, according to a gang awareness blog called Open the Gate.

Teens in gangs are also using social networking to recruit new members.

Authorities call it cyberbanging and they’re trying to fight it by monitoring sites, along with pictures and comments related to illegal activities.

Some gangs are very active online. You may recall the Myspace page of the Atlanta gang 30 Deep. Last year, police arrested two teens and four adults, members of the gang, linked to the murder of a bartender at The Standard and a string of robberies and burglaries. The Atlanta Journal Constitution and Creative Loafing both pointed out that 30 Deep’s Myspace page showcases kids holding rolls of money and flashing gang signs.

Open the Gate also highlights an Atlanta investigator who actually used Myspace to solve a gang related homicide. After scouring hundreds of known gang members’ Myspace pages, the investigator came across a high quality, digital picture of a gun, broken down. The serial number was readable, which lead to a warrant and a ballistics test that linked the gun to the homicide.

Open the Gate, which is part of the Gang Awareness Training Education Program, urges police to take cyberbanging more seriously and devote manpower to searching the social networking sites of local gangs.

Another Teen Killed at House Party

For the second time in a week, a teenager was killed at a house party in the Atlanta area.

18-year-old Daquavious Stephon Mapp was apparently caught in the crossfire of a firefight between other teenage boys. James Edwards and Tevin Williams, both 17, are charged with aggravated assault and gun charges. Police aren’t sure whose bullet killed Mapp, according the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Estimates vary widely, but most accounts say 75 kids were at a party in Conyers, Ga.

At about 9pm, police showed up in response to a noise complaint, according to WXIA-TV. Police broke the party up, but it resumed after they left.

A fight broke out inside the party and continued outside of the house. Shots were fired, hitting Mapp and wounding a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old.

According to police accounts, both 17-year-olds in custody admit to firing their guns. Police are waiting for ballistics reports before charging either teen with Mapp’s death, according to WSB-TV.

Apparently there were two parties: one for a 17-year-old girl’s birthday and another for a man living at the home to raise rent money. Partygoers were charged $3 to get in, police said.

As reported last week, this shooting comes a week after 18-year-old Bobby Tillman was beaten to death at a house party in Douglas County. Four teens, ages 18 and 19, have been charged with his death.

School District Rejects Federal Grant Money, Claiming Race to the Top Doesn’t Work

Times are hard for school systems across the country, so why is the Jones County school district, refusing $1.3 million in Race to the Top federal funds?

The school system, located southeast of Atlanta, claims the funding comes with stipulations, requiring that over half the money ($900,000) be spent on paying teachers based on merit, according to WMAZ-TV.

The school board voted unanimously to reject the funds. The money was too targeted and restrictive to help the district, Superintendant William Mathews told the TV station. Mathews also explained that research does not show that paying teachers based on merit works.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution made an interesting argument against merit-based pay for teachers. The article compares the environment in merit-based paid schools to that of a sweatshop with forced child laborers:

Teachers — workers in the system controlled by bosses above — will be exploited. Students — the “producing” workers in the system whose production of test scores will determine reward for those above them — will be exploited.

Telling teachers that their salaries depend on the testing performance of their students creates a hostile school environment, according the AJC, which goes on to say teachers can’t look at school children as assets and money shouldn’t be the incentive for shaping a child’s future.

The AJC found drastic swings in standardized test scores last year, which lead to a massive investigation of school cheating in school systems across Georgia.

Jones County was the only district among the 26 eligible for Race to the Top funds that chose to pull out of the process, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Teens Arrested for Gwinnett County Shooting

A 16-year-old was arrested in Gwinnett County last week for allegedly shooting another 16-year-old in the chest, according to a report in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  The District Attorney’s Office hopes to try him as an adult, which could result in a 20-year prison sentence.

Two other teens, ages 17 and 18, were arrested this week in connection with the shooting.  The Gwinnett Daily Post (GDP) reveals that the older suspect is enrolled as a senior at Hooper Renwick School while the 17-year-old is enrolled in 8th grade at Grace Snell Middle School.  The latter has not attended school all year, a Gwinnett Public Schools spokesperson told the GDP.

The three suspects are suspected to be involved in gang activity.

"...Arrest warrants show [the 18-year-old] admitted to having a 'captain' rank in whatever gang set he claims," said the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The victim was still hospitalized at the Gwinnett Medical Center as of Wednesday, according to the newspaper.

For more information:

Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC)

More from the AJC

Gwinnett Daily Post