Culture Diversity

The Jena 6

The big story in these parts today is the protest rallies in support of the group of black youths known as the “Jena 6”. Jena is a small town in Louisiana, and the focus of about 10,000 protesters from all over the country, today.

It’s difficult to find the facts to the story of the Jena 6, because there’s no person in the world better at burying unpleasantness than a Southerner.

Ostensibly, two events happened that no one disputes:

The first event is that during a high school assembly a black student asked the principal if the black kids could sit underneath the ‘white tree’– a big old shade tree that had previously been occupied by white students. The very next day, three white kids hung three (and I’ve heard two) nooses from the same tree in the town square

A noose is a known symbol in the South for lynching. More specifically, whites lynching blacks. The principal expelled the students, but the school superintendent overrode the Principal and gave the white kids in-school 3 day suspensions. It jez a prank, everyone says.

The second event takes place three months later. Six black kids are identified as having beaten up a white kid in the school hallway. The white kid ends up in the hospital, is treated, and released two hours later. The six black kids are charged with attempted second degree murder.

Right off that bat, you probably noticed, as I did, that it’s hard to think of a school fight as an attempt or a conspiracy to commit murder. At the same time, fair play suggests that it’s wrong of of a group of students to gang up on another. This isn’t Rosa Parks we’re talking about here, the lines are not cut and dried.

But then the story gets even more interesting. I want to point out two writings on this event.

The first is by Mel Didier a teacher in a nearby Lafayette Parish high school. Mr. Didier wrote that there were more than just these two incidents, and in fact there’s a pattern of racist violence in this small town:

A black student was beaten at a social function, and no one was charged. The DA goes into a hastily-called assembly and, looking directly at the African-American students, warns them that he can end their life with the stroke of his pen.

A white graduate pulls a gun on three black students who take the gun away and no charges are brought against the white grad, but the students were charged with theft when they didn’t give the gun back.

A white student taunts a black student beaten at a party and is jumped and beaten by six African-American students. Fox News points out that Justin Barker went to the hospital and was released the same day, attending a ring ceremony and social function that same day.

The DA charges those guilty of the attack with aggravated assault, and, when certain teachers and locals object, he ups the charges to attempted second-degree murder.

It’s difficult to deny a pattern of racial tension in this predominantly white community. What’s absolutely fascinating, though, is to read the front page of the Jena Times today, with a so-called timeline of events.

I’d copy text excerpts, but the paper actually made the story into a JPEG image and then inserted this into a frame. So I did the next best thing and copied pieces of the JPEG, highlighted phrases, and am copying the result here. I encourage you, though, to read the original. If it gets pulled, let me know and I’ll post a copy.

Part of the Jena Times newspaper article

I can’t be the only one who finds it odd that the author kept downplaying any racial tension in the community, while listing event after event that is inspired by racial tension. In addition, the author also stressed the ‘playfulness’ of the request about sitting under the white tree, when from other accounts, this wasn’t a playful request. In addition, it’s pretty obvious that when white kids are mentioned, they’re mentioned in a positive or neutral manner, but the actions of the black kids are portrayed negatively.

In fact reading this timeline, I feel like I’ve been transported back in time to the late 50’s and early 60’s, when white kids beating up blacks was considered nothing more than ‘juvenile spirits’. What’s amazing is that the town newspaper thought to publish this to downplay the racial problems the town has, when all it did for me was convince me that they exist.

According to an MTV story at one assembly where white students and black sat separate from each other, the DA held up a pen and said, specifically to the blacks, with one stroke of my pen, I can make your life disappear. Of course one person who lives near the area said the DA is more of a megalomaniac than a racist, but the end result is the same: justice is not prevailing.

I’m not fond of Al Sharpton who is leading much of the protest, and not condoning what the kids did: no matter how angry, six against one is wrong (if there were six, that hasn’t necessarily been proved). But this isn’t a case where these black kids decided to jump this white kid for nothing. Even the town’s most fervent supports acknowledge the white kid taunted the black kids. This was a hall fight triggered by anger that got out of control, and should have been prosecuted this way.

Attempted second degree murder?

Other weblogs covering this story.

The weblog that seems to be following this event the closest is Pursuing Holiness, including a detailed weblog post on the events the day of the fight.


From the Chicago Tribune today:

The judge overseeing the racially-charged case of the Jena 6 declined Friday to release the only one of the six black teenagers still being held in jail, despite the fact that the youth’s conviction for aggravated second-degree battery was vacated a week ago by an appeals court, family members and court sources confirmed.

Bell has been jailed since the beating incident last December, unable to post $90,000 bond. That bond was rendered moot when Bell’s battery conviction was overturned by Louisiana’s Third Circuit Court of Appeals on Sept. 14, which ruled that Bell, who was 16 at the time of the incident, should have been tried as a juvenile. The local district attorney prosecuting the case, Reed Walters, has vowed to appeal that ruling, and to press ahead with his cases against the other five youths, who are free on bond.

But Bell remains in jail, and under the jurisdiction of juvenile court, because he is now being prosecuted as a juvenile on a count of conspiracy in connection with the beating. Mauffray’s ruling Friday means he declined to set any conditions for Bell’s release.

That will show us uppity outsiders how they do justice in Louisiana, yessir indeed.



I’ve missed the last few “Hey! Look at me!” fests. Let’s catch up quickly by saying, I’m not People Ready. In fact, I’m never ready for people–they astonish me so–and no, I didn’t buy an iPhone.

The uproar over the iPhone and its supposed revolutionary impact on the phone industry reminds me of another successful product launch, long ago. The company selling the earlier item ran a rather exciting and innovative marketing campaign, implicitly promising a life changing experience for those lucky, and adventurous, enough to put down the cold hard cash.

There was no Steve Jobs in black shirt, but the product was introduced to the world at the 1964 World’s Fair, as well as all three major networks. When it hit the streets, the vendors were overrun. Literally overrun. Within 18 months, over a million had been sold.

Yet, I look around today and Mustangs are no more common than any other car. Maybe Ford should have stuck with black, after all.


Nigerian sight and sound

Dare Obasanjo posted music videos and photos from his recent trip home to Nigeria.

The music is both English and Yoruba, the language of the Yoruba people, and one of the languages spoken in Nigeria. English is the official language. Dare referred to the music as Nigerian hip-hop and R&B. The first video definitely has a hip-hop feel, including some objectification of women. Most of the music he linked, though, seemed more R&B and without the angry edge I’ve come to associate with hip-hop.

The photos are from his Dad’s birthday celebrations. I’d sure love a description of the outfits–the native ones are exquisite. It looked like in some of the photos that the material used in several outfits was the same, so I wondered if there were specific associations with the fabrics and style of outfits.

Dare is well known and respected in tech circles, but what might not be as well known is that he’s the son of Olusegun Obasanjo. Nigeria is in for some challenging times in the near future, and it’s good to see Dare back home.


A word about ads

I really love the television ads from this beer company. And the company is pretty cool, too.

It’s kind of funny that television has actually become one of the most honest means of advertising, but in the days of web pop-ups and covert product spokespeople, putting a story to film almost seems quaint.

(Disclaimer: I am not a overt or covert product spokesperson for this brewery. However, I wouldn’t say no to a bottle of Fat Tire.)

Follow your folly. I can live with that. And so can our new neighbor.



I agree with Karl Martino in his disgust with both Pat Robertson and that pathetic minister from Kansas, Fred Phelps. Don’t need atheists to say anything bad about Christianity when you have men like this out witnessing for the faithful–usually by recommending that someone be killed.

I winced, though, when reading his condemnation of Ann Coulter. Oh, not because he condemned her. It was his reference to her audience:

And speaking of Ann Coulter […] did you know she actually suggested New Yorkers are cowards? I know many New Yorkers. They are the ONLY folks I know that compare to Philadelphians in terms of being tough.

She’s one of a growing chorus of opportunists that seek to divide the country for their own gain. She knows her fan base – Southerners – and plays to it very well.

Missouri is considered on the border between north and south, east and west in this country, but culturally, the St. Louis area aligns more southern than midwestern. And this is reflected in some of the votes that have happened the last few years, including those for President, Governor, and the overwhelming vote against gay marriage.

At the same time, though, even in the hot of summer a good crowd showed up at the Gay Pride parade in St. Louis, and most of the people were not gay. It made me feel pretty good.

During the trip this last week, I talked with a lot of people, and heard stories about mills, and whisky running, and the great flood of 1993, and I found the people to be both charming and friendly–especially in the Branson area, where everyone had a smile. But then, these people saw a straight, older, white woman. A straight, older, white, woman who they assumed was Christian. It was lucky that religion was never mentioned, because I was right at the buckle of the bible belt: the heart of the fundamentalist faith in this country.

No we didn’t talk about religion or politics so I was able to pass and had a delightful time. I’d like to assume, because I like to believe the best of folk, that if they knew I wasn’t Christian, or Republican, they would still have been as friendly.

I wonder, though. A couple of months or so ago I had a lovely email from a lady who volunteered at one of the local historical societies. She’d really liked my Tyson Elk story–you know the one with the atom bomb?– and asked how I had conducted my research. I love history, and it was wonderful to talk with someone about it, because I swear “history bloggers” are the rarest of the rare breeds. Anyway, we had a great exchange of emails, and were even talking about getting together for lunch to talk about Tyson, when I mentioned that she could see some of my photos of the area at Flickr. What I had forgotten is that it was fairly soon after the Pride parade and my Flickr queue was full of pictures from the event. I never heard from her again.

Still, most of the webloggers from the south I read are tolerant, intelligent, and open minded and I’d like to think they’re representative of most of the folks in the area rather than online freaks who have been perverted by all you folks out there. As for the north, well, I grew up in a town in Washington State that wasn’t far from the spiritual center of the neo-nazi movement, only forty miles away in Idaho. Heck, I’ll take a southern redneck from the Ozarks over one of those guys in the back hills of Idaho.

Perhaps tolerance is a myth made up by big city folk in the north to descibe what doesn’t exist in the south. Still, as Mark Twain said, All the talk about tolerance, in anything or anywhere, is plainly a gentle lie. It does not exist. It is in no man’s heart; but it unconsciously, and by moss-grown inherited habit, drivels and slobbers from all men’s lips.. Mark Twain was from Missouri.

I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks. Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and born in Alabama.

All I was doing was trying to get home from work. Alabama born Rosa Parks said.

Never drive a car that can handle more road than you can. Sorry, that one was me.

Bad, stupid, fearful people live everywhere. It’s just that most of the folk in the south are quiet and believe their ministers and not all of the “men of God” here are good people. Or at a minimum, tolerant. Nor do they have a whole lot of exposure to people who are different, and didn’t grow up in these parts; probably because people in the north don’t visit the south, and when they do, they treat the folks here like they’re inbred and stupid. Or they act like they’re inbred and stupid, themselves, and the southerners want no part of them.

Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt–distance does that.

Oh, and as an example of a typical southern person, Bush doesn’t count–he went to Yale.