October 26, 2007

The Jena 6 : When not everything is as it appears

I've held off on posting anything about this because it was hard to get my head around some things. In fact, it still is. Granted, every place in this country has it's share of racist assholes, from Louisiana to Michigan (trust me, they're there) racism is national thing. However, it certainly seemed like a lot of them were living in the Gret Stet of Louisiana. An 'all-white tree'? Noose being used for decoration? Kids getting in fights because of color? Kids being indicted for attempted second-degree murder?

The biggest issue I had was simple... why were SIX kids beating ONE kid unconscious? Frankly, I don't care about the provocation. Six on one may be great for sex (no, I've never tried it) but not so much for a fight.

The Christian Science Monitor ran an article from someone who actually lives in Jena and writes for the Jena paper. After reading it, I'm almost certain that while well intentioned, he's a little clueless about how things are for blacks in Jena. The picture he paints is one of everyone being go-along, get-along which I don't think may be wholly accurate. The excuse regarding the noose hanging from a tree is really interesting...

Myth 2: Nooses a Signal to Black Students. An investigation by school officials, police, and an FBI agent revealed the true motivation behind the placing of two nooses in the tree the day after the assembly. According to the expulsion committee, the crudely constructed nooses were not aimed at black students. Instead, they were understood to be a prank by three white students aimed at their fellow white friends, members of the school rodeo team. (The students apparently got the idea from watching episodes of "Lonesome Dove.") The committee further concluded that the three young teens had no knowledge that nooses symbolize the terrible legacy of the lynchings of countless blacks in American history. When informed of this history by school officials, they became visibly remorseful because they had many black friends. Another myth concerns their punishment, which was not a three-day suspension, but rather nine days at an alternative facility followed by two weeks of in-school suspension, Saturday detentions, attendance at Discipline Court, and evaluation by licensed mental-health professionals. The students who hung the nooses have not publicly come forward to give their version of events.

Lonesome Dove? Yeah, right. However, this is where he starts making a good point... these kids got punished, despite their ridiculous story about razzing their shit-kicker friends, far worse than what was reported by the media which made it sound like they got a slap on the wrist.

Then there was the DA who 'threatened' the black students...

Myth 4: DA's Threat to Black Students. When District Attorney Reed Walters spoke to Jena High students at an assembly in September, he did not tell black students that he could make their life miserable with "the stroke of a pen." Instead, according to Walters, "two or three girls, white girls, were chit-chatting on their cellphones or playing with their cellphones right in the middle of my dissertation. I got a little irritated at them and said, 'Pay attention to me. I am right now having to deal with an aggravated rape case where I've got to decide whether the death penalty applies or not.' I said, 'Look, I can be your best friend or your worst enemy. With the stroke of a pen I can make your life miserable so I want you to call me before you do something stupid.'"

Mr. Walters had been called to the assembly by police, who had been at the school earlier that day dealing with some students who were causing disturbances. Teachers and students have confirmed Walters's version of events.

Stupid thing to say? Oh hell yeah, but largely typical of a powertripping asshole. Racist? Maybe or maybe not. You really can't tell from the accurate version of events. You could make the case for him being racist from his seeking attempted murder indictments for the six black kids. However, you could also say he was doing it because of the brutality of the attack which seems just as, on balance, likely. And the reality is, not all these kids were the saints they were made out to be...

Myth 10: Jena 6 as Model Youth. While some members were simply caught up in the moment, others had criminal records. Bell had at least four prior violent-crime arrests before the December attack, and was on probation during most of this year.

Bell is the one whose conviction was just overturned. Note these are arrests, not convictions. Juvenile records are usually kept closed so we don't know his conviction history. He was, coincidentally, the kid who started the attack.

Myth 11: Jena Is One of the Most Racist Towns in America. Actually, Jena is a wonderful place to live for both whites and blacks. The media's distortion and outright lies concerning the case have given this rural Louisiana town a label it doesn't deserve.

Myth 12: Two Levels of Justice. Outside protesters were convinced that the prosecution of the Jena 6 was proof of a racially biased system of justice. But the US Justice Department's investigation found no evidence to support such a claim. In fact, the percentage of blacks and whites prosecuted matches the parish's population statistics.

11 may be true, but coming from a white newspaper reporter it's hardly evidence. Just as the ultra rich think the economy is great and that gas price increases are nuisance, white folks in a small town usually don't see just how bad things are for their black neighbors. As for 12, who could argue with the Bush Justice Dept. Honestly, I'm surprised they had the staff to send out to investigate.

At the end of the day I still have questions. However, I finally have some answers and a clearer narrative. I know there is still racism in this country. And I know some will use it as a reason for violence.

Posted by mcblogger at October 26, 2007 06:35 PM

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