Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Jena 6

Ahh, the South. It is the home of sweet tea, bbq, and a brand of racism that Dave Chappelle described as "magnifique!" How true. If you're looking for vintage racism, one that is devoid of sophistication or justfication one need only go to the Deep South. No doubt, this strain of burning, unreasoning hatred of black people can be found throughout the country but it seems reasonable to assert that its most widespread in the South.

In brief:
The town of Jena is located in Northwest Louisiana closer to Jackon, MS as opposed to New Orleans. It is a town that has always been sharply divided by racial lines. The incidents of the last year have brought this to national attention but this is nothing new. At Jena High School there is a tree that has been traditionally used by white students. Think about that for a moment. A black student sat under it one day and in response sometime later three nooses were hung under said tree. In a related incident three black students were threatened with a shotgun at a convenience store. The three students were able to confiscate the offending weapon and were subsequently charged with theft of a firearm! The white student who had produced the weapon had no charges pressed against him.

On December 4, 2006 Justin Barker was beaten unconscious by the now infamous Jena 6. Sources on the side of the six black teenagers claimed that Barker instigated the melee upon claiming that one of the Jena 6, a Robert Bailey, Jr. had been beaten up by a white man at a party three days before. Clearly, Mr. Barker was not relaying facts and was more likely taunting the Jena 6. The beating that followed was clearly an overreaction to the particular incident but perhaps not in light of the general atmosphere in Jena.

In every instance of racially divided tensions the law has prosecuted the black side far more harshly. Reed Walters, DA for the LaSalle Parish brought charges against Mychal Bell, 16, of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery. He contended that that Bell's tennis shoes were deadly weapons. Second-degree battery requires use of a "deadly weapon." The all white jury agreed with the interpretation and a participant in high school brawl was found guilty of the charges and subject to a sentence that could be as high as 22 years.

The hue and cry about this case has no chance of reaching Duke Lacrosse decibels but enough that media scrutiny has increased somewhat. As of this morning Reed Walters has reduced the charges for Mychal Bell. The other 5 youths were 17 at the time of the Barker beating and thus did not qualify as juveniles in the state of Louisiana. Mr. Walters would do well to heed the lessons of DA Mike Nifong. The coverage of this incident has been underwhelming to say the least and has not been picked up with any enthusiasm by the major outlets. Fortunately, enough of the right people have been fired up to rally to the cause of the Jena 6.

For more on this story: http://www.thenation.com/blogs/actnow?bid=4&pid=231753

Spread the word. The US has a long way to go in terms of fair and equal treatment of its citizens. The more we know the better we can be.

In a bit.

1 comment:

Nicole said...

My mind has left Yoga and Hinduism during the last few weeks to be filled with contemplation about multiculturalism, which necessarily includes discussion of racism. I feel like it is becoming clearer and clearer what I must do with the foreign experiences that transformed me so profoundly.

Racism may not be so blatant as it was 50 years ago; you could say racism is out of fashion like big hair held together with AquaNet. But, in the same way that some people feel cooler with big hair even today, others still think hating people who don't look like them makes them cooler in their own group.

Racism is still alive and well in this country, it has just changed its style. They say in a relationship, it's better to be yelled at than ingored. The racism of today more often involves ignoring. The racist of today either consciously or subconsciously acts to dismiss the collective experiences and societal contributions of another culture in an attempt to make their differences just "go away." This is what happens when people keep quiet about their unique cultural perspective or are ostracized for sharing it. This is what is happening when school children learn one, flat, sanitized version of American history, without the multiple perspectives of the many cultures that helped write the story.

This does a disservice to minorities as well as members of the mainstream culture. It robs minorities of role models and convinces mainstream members that there's no use in thinking outside the box of the system presented to them. It robs society as a whole from inspiring the best and most creative contribution of every member.