Friday, September 21, 2007

The Jena 6- or racism is alive and well in the U.S.

It's hard to believe that here we are in the 21st century, living in a progressive, supposedly civilized nation, and yet racism still runs rampant in many parts of this great country we call the United States of America. Small, provincial minds still harbour deep hatred for those who are different, finding it virtually impossible to live integrated and harmonious lives with people of different skin colours.

It's never been more obvious than in Jena, Louisiana where 6 young black teens face up to 80 years in jail for a school yard brawl that has deepened the racial divide, and was precipitated, to begin with, by racism.

Although the actual details vary, according to different sources here, here, here, and here, what we do know is that predominately white Jena High School, in Jena Louisiana, still practices (unofficially) segregation. There was a shady tree (now burned down) known as the "whites tree" because it was (unofficially) off limits to blacks. It seems that blacks and whites at Jena High School don't integrate. The whites congregated under the "whites tree" and the African American students would gather elsewhere. Sometime late August or early September, 2006 during a school assembly, one or more black students decided to challenge the status quo and asked the Principal if they too could sit under the tree. The response was that they could "sit wherever they wanted."

The next morning 3 nooses were found suspended from the tree, although it's unclear whether this happened prior to or after the black students happened to exercise what was rightfully theirs to do. The Principal of Jena High School recommended the 3 white students responsible be expelled, but Superintendent Roy Breithaupt (and the Board of Education) chose to suspend the culprits for a mere 3 days, claiming it was just a childish prank. This, of course, angered the black community and set into motion a series of events which eventually led to the beating of a white boy and the reason the Jena 6 are on trial.

It's important to follow the series of events to recognize that this case is truly an example of the racial inequality in our justice system.

First of all hanging nooses on trees is not an adolescent prank, as Breithaupt intimates, it's as much a hate crime as burning crosses on lawns or painting swastikas on Synagogues. These children need to know it is not okay to do things like that, and that they will be punished for flagrant racist actions. They should have been expelled, or at least suspended for a much longer period of time. Perhaps this would have lessened the tensions between whites and blacks that ensued after the the 3 day in-school suspension was meted out.

As far as I can cobble together from the various sources linked above this is what happened:

Fall of 2006: As tension mounts, fights erupt between black and white students at Jena High school. Unknown arsonists set fire to the campus in November, both sides blame each other. A black student, Robert Bailey, trying to enter an off-campus, all-white party is beaten up by a white male. Bailey claims he was hit on the head with a beer bottle. Justin Sloan is charged with battery and placed on probation. Several days later, at a convenience store, a young white male (who was at the party) pulls a rifle on 3 black students(including Bailey). The gun is wrestled away from the white male and Bailey takes the gun home. Their stories contradict each other but, ultimately, Bailey is the one charged with theft of a firearm, disturbing the peace and 2nd-degree robbery. The white male who pulled the gun on the black youths- gets nothing!

December 4, 2006: Again, the details are sketchy and vary, but it appears that 17-year old Justin Barker (white) is beaten by a group of black students (including Bailey) after Barker, earlier that day, allegedly taunted Bailey for having been beaten up at the party. Barker was left unconscious with some cuts, bruises and a swollen eye, but was well enough to be released from the hospital after only a few hours, and able to attend a school function later that evening.

The Six Students: Robert Bailey, Jr. (17), Mychal Bell (16), Carwin Jones (18), Bryant Purvis (17) and Theo Shaw (17). 14 year old Jesse Ray Beard is the only one being charged as a juvenile, the others are being charged as adults, and the D.A. upped the assault charges to attempted 2nd degree murder!

What I find appalling about this whole situation is:

1. That the kids had to even ask for permission to sit under that tree.
2. None of the white's involved in any of the altercations received punishment appropriate to the crime, and some received none at all.
3. The black teens are being charged with attempted 2nd-degree murder which is a blatant and gross miscarriage of justice.

I will be the first to dismiss the 'race-card', but in this case, no way. This is not fair, by any means.

It just demonstrates how racism still exists not just in rural Louisiana but in our justice system, as well, and when young lives hang in the balance, this is not right.

First of all, why are schools still segregated in that way? It's not like we speak 2 different languages. You might not be able to change how families pass down, from generation to generation, their biases and prejudices, but we can do something about it in our schools. I think we should insitute some kind of race relations workshops and classes in the school systems, this way we can teach our kids how to get along with others. Their futures (and ours) depend on that.

Photo Credit above: StrangeFruit- lynching of Rubin Stacy 7/19/1935 Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Click on link for story.


Pat Jenkins said...

a very passioned post incog, and i am in total agreement. you ought to be proud!!! you may not agree with my post today so i will await your response, cringing!!!

kodiak73 said...

Although I have historically not been a big fan of hate crimes legislation I heard the best arguement that has ever been presented to me this morning and I think my opinion is shifting. The arguement is that Hate Crime legislation is written to convince "victom populations" that the criminal justice system is cognizant of their situation in an effort to prevent the "victom populations" from retaliating because they don't think justice will be served through the proper channels. Certainly, one would hope that if consequences for actions had been equal on both sides of this issue, it would not have escalated to the point it did.

Incognito said...

PAT J: Thanks PJ. Will head on over now. No need to cringe.. :-)

KODIAK73: Very interesting argument. I think hate crimes bills also act, hopefully, as a deterrent. If there were none, would those kinds of acts increase? I think they might. I think people, on the whole, just want equality with respect to justice. And that goes for all colors, walks of life etc.

Pat Jenkins said...

by the way incog i forgot to ask you something. have you seen chavez wants his own time zone for venezuala?? ohh boy!!!

Frasypoo said...

It so strange to say this but I know how true it is.Places like South Georgia still have differant proms,the black students get the school prom and the white kids have to pay for their prom.Is' nt it easier to get along?

Incognito said...

PATJ: Yeah, I did... by half an hour, of all things. Plus the who school curriculum issue.. he's well... we all know what he is. and he's just proving it, day after day.

FRASYP: It is sad, isn't it Poo. If we all could just get along there would be peace on earth. Not gonna happen until we can embrace each other's differences.

lizze said...

Great post!!

These kids were suppose to the next generation with a more enlightened view - I kind of assume that the younger generation should know a bit better then the old one when it is comes to matter like this.

The system needs to be fair!

Panhandle Poet said...

Racial tensions are far from dead -- and not just in the south. A visit to most low-income areas of any city in this country is like stepping into a war zone. Not all of it is poverty driven. Growing pockets of racially identified immigrant groups create new areas of racial tension almost daily. Any time one group feels threatened by another there will be problems. Most "explosive" situations develop from stupidity. Someone who isn't thinking clearly does something that heightens the tension. Teenagers are notorious for not thinking clearly. It doesn't excuse the behavior but perhaps it identifies it.

Incognito said...

LIZZE: You would think we'd be more enlightened in these days, but we're not and neither are our kids, as a result. Sad to say. It does need to be fair and it is far from it.

PAN: You're right, and it's tragic, that's why I think it's important to teach our children how to get along with each other, and if they don't get it at home at least the schools should teach tolerance.

lizze said...

Incognito - I just noticed your new icon. BIIIIG Kudos to you for using it!!!

Have you done it yourself or is there a link to it?

Incognito said...

Hey Lizze..
Actually they are asking people to post it in their sidebar, which I intend to do (with a link) but the info on it is here..

Baron Bodissey from Gates of Vienna and Conservative Swede came up with the idea. And since I support free speech.. :-)
am on my way over to your blog and will post there too.

Frasypoo said...

Hi Incog
I have changed blogs
This is my new URL

WomanHonorThyself said...

great work Incog but I still dont like the idea of making heros out of people who break the law?

Incognito said...

FRASY: Thanks Poo. Done! :-)

WOMAN: Hey Angel.. but I don't really think it's a question of "making heros" out of the Jena 6. It's a question of the very obvious inequality in our justice system. Had all those involved (including the various white boys who "broke the law" as well) been equally punished, we wouldn't be in this situation. But they haven't been treated equally, by any means. That is not fair, and that, to me, reaks of racism or prejudice, or whatever you want to call it.

I'd like to see our justice system treat everyone fairly.. be they rich, poor, black, white...

Renegade Eye said...

Your post was the best I've seen anywhere on the subject.

Incognito said...

Thank you Ren! It's a subject that I think is important, when it truly is a question of racism.

Chip said...

Thanx for this post. Jena 6 is a confusing topic. It seems there are more questions and pontifications than understanding. I appreciate your timeline too. I will digest it later tonight. I don't understand "hate crimes". If some blogger gets a grasp of it, it would be a good post.
Blessings (you've come a long way baby). chip.

Incognito said...

Hi Chip!

It is and it isn't. It's definitely a touchy subject. The kids did beat up a boy, but it was provoked and it started with the hanging of the nooses on the tree. I believe that if the perpetrators had been properly punished, it would never have escalated to where it did. Plain and simple.
Blessings, back atcha.

Incognito said...

CHip.. as far as Hate Crimes..I don't either.. but it's a result of fear and ignorance of people or things that are different. And hatred is taught..though we have a choice to embrace that hatred or turn away from it. Most don't have the strength to see past their prejudices. I was an American raised abroad and so have no concept of racism.. it was a rude awakening when I came here to live for good.

Bruce Larson*Moore said...


Suspended upon the limbs and branches of society hangs a self destructive, taut line of inhuman power,

Bound within an illusion of glory and grace on the living tree of mankind,

Crossing a river of uncounted souls, holding on to the hope of a shared love without the fall of color, history nor gender,

Swinging upon the tree of humanity a fabricated innocence of denial, uneasily waiting, silently begging, desperately pleading for the open expression, healing discussion and outward, public display of the true sins hung upon swinging trees across the globe.

©Bruce Larson*Moore