Bloggers Organize for Justice in Jena

BlogHer Original Post

I was going to spend a quiet morning focused on my research, and then this had to go and hit my inbox:

"JENA, United States (AFP) - The racial demons of the Old South have resurfaced in a rural Louisiana town where black students who tried to sit on the white side of the school yard were met by three hangmen's nooses dangling from a tree.

"The students and their parents were outraged by the stark reminder of the mob lynchings which had terrorized Southern US blacks until just a few decades ago.

"Months of inter-racial violence followed the decision by a white school superintendent to over-rule the principal's recommendation to expel three white students found to have hung the nooses.

"The community became even more divided after a white prosecutor imposed significantly harsher charges on the black youths caught up in the violence...."

As DMX used to say, "Y'all gon' make me lose my mind/up in here/up in here." But DMX was talking about a party, and what's going on in Jena is anything but. There are definitely some people "acting the fool, though," and that has prompted a growing growing protest movement, both in the blogosphere and real life.

First, some more details, courtesy of Sylvia at AfroSpear, quoting Howard Witt from the Chicago Tribune :

According to Mr. Witt’s article the following events have occurred since the initial action by the black students last September:

* The next day three nooses were hanging from the tree

* Once three white students were identified as having hung the nooses on the tree, the school superintendent suspended them for only three days. (The principal had suggested expulsion). The superintendent felt the nooses represented a “youthful stunt.”

* Fights broke out at the high school between black and white students.

* Unknown arsonists set fire to the central wing of the school (November)

* A white youth beat up a black student who showed up at an all-white party

* another young white man pulled a shotgun on three black students at a convenience store

* A group of black students at the high school allegedly jumped a white student on his way out of the gym, knocked him unconscious and kicked him after he hit the floor (December)

* LaSalle Parish district attorney, Reed Walters, opted to charge six black students with attempted second-degree murder and other offenses (for their involvement in the above incident)

NOTE: The white youth who beat the black student at the party was charged only with simple battery, while the white man who pulled the shotgun at the convenience store wasn’t charged with any crime at all.

This is the same Howard Witt who brought national attention to the story of Shaquanda Cotton, another case in which racial disparities in punishment sparked protest and controversy.

With regard to Jena, Sylvia argues:

In this story, we see the refusal to grapple with the severity of racial animus, symbolic representations of that animus, and the legacy of mutual mistrust and hatred left today from failing to grapple with the unreleased tension. Entangled in these sentiments is miscarriage of justice, patterns of retaliatory violence and intimidation, and a pervasive sense of futility that amidst so much action and emotion, nothing substantial was felt or expressed except the stinging pain of old and gangrenous wounds.

According to news reports, the mayor of Jena, Murphy McMillan, insists this is not about race:

"Race is not a major local issue. "It's not a factor in the local people's lives."

Eddie Thompson, a white Pentecostal preacher quoted in the Witt article, says racism is part of the problem, but casts the issue in a way that, arguably, minimizes violence against the black community:

Here in the piney woods of central Louisiana, where some gentle, old, Christian, white women still call graying black men “boy” and some angry, young, Christian, black teens attack pizza delivery trucks that would dare enter their neighborhood, racism and bigotry are such a part of life that most of the citizens do not even recognize it. Cross Highway 127 just south of Jena and you enter two different worlds, separated by class and race. If we as Christians face powers, principalities, and rulers of darkness in high places it is certain that part of the spiritual wickedness arrayed against the citizens of LaSalle Parish is hatred born of racism.

In fact, Thompson accuses "carpetbaggers" who "[s]tring together the worse incidents over the last eight months through a prism of racism" of inflaming racial tensions.

Elle, Ph.D., who says she grew up about 100 miles from Jena, says, among other things:

"Pastor Thompson reminds me of the southern Senators during debates on the civil rights bills of the mid-20th century--he is incensed that, rather than letting the community heal itself, "Attorneys and leaders of national race-based organizations have hi-jacked any local efforts to overcome racial tensions." And though he acknowledges the racism in Jena, he believes, "the racism found here in America is subtle compared to what is going on around the world." Picture this American's jaw dropping to the floor. His invoking of meddling carpetbaggers and noble locals who shall overcome is not surprising."

Sylvia and Elle point to much more information on the impending trial (which has been continued until June 25) and the various protests, articles and controversy that the case has engendered. Sylvia also has contact information for local organizations that are looking for donations and other expressions of support. Ilyka at Pandagon urges readers to get involved, and offers additional sources for ongoing coverage of the case.

Ilyka also sees a larger ideological issue:

Conservatives decry hate crime legislation because the events at Jena High School are their vision of a desirable future. Decent people view those events as ideally confined to a horrible, sickening past, to be remembered but certainly never longed for. We the decent have to help put a stop to this injustice. If you think that’s unfair, the way we decent people are always having to clean up messes made by the habitually indecent (and I don’t mean “indecent” in the fun way), ask yourself: Is it only a little unfair, or charged-with-attempted-murder unfair? Hey! Suddenly life looks a little better, huh? Great! So get to work.

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