*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.
But as the investigation drags on, the shock and indignation has been tinged with an undercurrent of racial tension.
“I feel sorry for the little girl. I feel sorry for everyone involved…the city is in turmoil,” Inez Dickerson said.
Dickerson, 68, is the great-grandmother of one of the defendants in the case. Her grandson has not been publicly identified by police because he is a minor.
Dickerson remembers when her great-grandson called to tell her the crime he’s accused of committing.
“When I got on the phone, he was crying. He said, ‘Granny, I’ve been accused of something. I’m scared,'” Dickerson said. “He’s pretty tore up about it.”
“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.
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