Sep. 21st, 2007

lurkitty: (Pogo)
Who are the Jena 6 and why you should care.

I walked out of the grocery store yesterday here in suburbia right behind two middle-aged African Americans. One was a bit agitated. I tried to get closer to hear what he was saying because it seemed to me he was talking about someone in the store hassling him, singling him out because he was black. I wanted to know. It has happened before in my community; an insular, white, working class place. It happens out of ignorance.

There are over ten thousand people marching in Jena, LA. Listening to the media coverage of the event, it is because six African American students were charged initially with attempted murder when they beat up a white student, and white students were suspended for only three days when they hung nooses from a tree.

That isn't the whole story. Not by a long shot. Even an august newspaper of the calibre of the NYT has failed to bring forward the facts that have lead to filling this 85% white community with thousands of people of color. In doing so, they have perpetuated the the racism.

The story, as described more fully by NPR in July, starts last year, when a new African American student asked the principal at Jena High School if he could sit under a big shade tree in the courtyard where white students were sitting. The principal told the student he could sit anywhere he liked.

The next morning, three nooses were found hanging from the tree. The three white boys responsible were initially recommended to be expelled, but instead received a suspension for three days.

From the NPR article:
The school called an assembly and summoned the police and the district attorney. Black students sat on one side, whites on the other. District Attorney Reed Walters warned the students he could be their friend or their worst enemy. He lifted his fountain pen and said, "With one stroke of my pen, I can make your life disappear.

Black students felt the white DA was looking right at them. The racial tensions continuted, and on Nov. 30, the school was burned down. Each side thought the other was responsible.

Again, from NPR:

The next night, 16-year-old Robert Bailey and a few black friends tried to enter a party attended mostly by whites. When Bailey got inside, he was attacked and beaten. The next day, tensions escalated at a local convenience store. Bailey exchanged words with a white student who had been at the party. The white boy ran back to his truck and pulled out a pistol grip shotgun. Bailey ran after him and wrestled him for the gun.

After some scuffling, Bailey and his friends took the gun away and brought it home. Bailey was eventually charged with theft of a firearm, second-degree robbery and disturbing the peace. The white student who pulled the weapon was not charged at all.

The following Monday, Dec.4, a white student named Justin Barker was loudly bragging to friends in the school hallway that Robert Bailey had been whipped by a white man on Friday night. When Barker walked into the courtyard, he was attacked by a group of black students. The first punch knocked Barker out and he was kicked several times in the head. But the injuries turned out to be superficial. Barker was examined by doctors and released; he went out to a social function later that evening.


To reiterate, when a white boy pulled a gun, he was not charged. The black boy was charged with stealing the gun and disturbing the peace. No charges were brought when the black boy was beaten, but when the white boy incurred superficial wounds, the blacks were charged with felonies.

This is why people are marching on Jena. The shade tree that bore the shades of strange fruit has been chopped down, but the legacy of inequality remains.

Currently, Mychal Bell, the only defendant remaining in jail, may be released sometime today, according to CNN. Last week, an appellate court vacated his conviction on the basis that he should not have been tried as an adult. He has served nine months so far.

The US Attorney for the Western DIstrict of Louisiana, Donald Washington, has determined that while the noose incident bore some marking of a hate crime, it did not meet Federal criteria because the students were under 18 and did not belong to the KKK or other hate groups.

That is not to say the KKK is not present, as this incident in nearby Alexandria shows.


No more Strange Fruit. Free the Jena 6.

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