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.

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