September 1, 2007
While we are constantly distracted by the corporate media to believe that things like the Don Imus stupidity amounts to proof that racism is alive and well in America, real racism goes on unmolested and unreported. It is a shame that in 21st century America, we have made very little progress on matter of equality and race. Hundreds of years have produced many positive changes in the country and precious little change in the hearts of people who harbor hate toward other human beings because they are simply different.
If you want to see true racism, I direct you to Jena, Louisiana. In Jena, things like Don Imus are just silly things folks up north banter about while the true practice of racism is continually perfected. In a community that is 85% white there exists a High School where a popular shade tree had an unwritten “whites only” rule. That’s right America, at a public high school in Jena, Louisiana there was a shade tree that blacks were not allowed to sit under. Not a school code, just a communal understanding that whites have preference over blacks. So much was this an understanding at the school that a black student asked permission from the school to sit under the tree. The response the next day were three nooses, in the school colors, were hanging from the tree to greet the student who dared to question racism. Undeterred, black students went and sat under the tree. The students who hung the nooses were suspended and the administration chalked it up to a prank. That is what hanging nooses amounts to in the dirty south, a prank. Never mind the history of those who died at the end of nooses fighting for the freedoms that we are all supposed to be endowed with by our Creator. A prank.
What ensued was an outbreak of fights and unrest at the high school and quite frankly, understandably so. The community responded by sending the District Attorney out to the school, to address the black students. Not to talk to the white students, just the black students. As if that was not offensive enough the direct quote being attributed to the District Attorney toward the black students at this meeting was; “I can end your lives with a stroke of the pen.” Things continued to escalate in Jena as both sides continued their aggression. Black students were assaulted at white parties and three black teens accused a white man of pulling a shotgun on them in the parking lot of a convenience store. This all culminated with an assault by six black teens on a white teen as the result of a fight. The community’s response was to charge the six teens with attempted murder.
Never mind that the “assaulted” white teen was released from the hospital the same day and was seen at a social event later that day having no ill effects from the “attack.” Never mind that a few nights earlier a friend of one of the black teens had his skull opened by a broken bottle and the white assailant in that case was merely charged with “simple battery”; a misdemeanor. No, these six were charged with attempted murder. The first of the “Jena Six” went to trial where the charges were reduced to “aggravated battery”. In order for that to be the charge there needed to be a weapon. The weapon in this case? Tennis shoes. I kid you not. The black youth was defended by a public defender who called no witnesses on his behalf and the all-white jury convicted 17-year old Mychal Bell, who now awaits sentencing where he faces 22 years in jail for fighting with the deadly weapon of tennis shoes.
There are five more of the “Jena Six” awaiting trial, rotting away in prison. They are still charged with attempted murder, so the bails could be set to a level that the families could not bail them out. Jordan Flaherty, the independent journalist who brought this story to the national stage understands what is really going on in Jena, “I don't think there is anyone around that would doubt that if this had been a fight between black students or a fight of white students beating up a black student, you would never be seeing this. It's completely about race. It's completely about two systems of justice."
I do not like using terms like the “dirty south” but this story is simply filthy. It speaks to our souls about who we are as a people. We like to think that we have advanced and progressed but every now and again there is a story like this one that should make you sick to your stomach. I know there is little we can do about bigots and racists. They will always be with us no matter how much we think we have grown as a people. What needs to be absolutely intolerable however is to have that bigotry and racism pervade our governmental systems. Justice is supposed to be blind and that includes color blind. The people of Jena should be ashamed of the taint they have brought to the national landscape. The larger issue remains though the people in positions of power who apparently not only support the inherent racism and bigotry but also drive it. The higher levels of government need to step in and correct this situation immediately. The District Attorney should be fired just for the threat he made to the high school students. Instead, he has kept to his word and is trying to end the lives of six youth with the stroke of his pen. The Public Defender should be fired and disbarred for not representing his client appropriately. Hopefully the judge will come to his senses before sentencing and begins to reverse this horrific trend of injustice.
I do not hold out much hope though for justice in Jena. Somewhere six kids are in jail facing the obliteration of their lives for having a schoolyard fight, where no one was hurt. Somewhere there is a white community that is embracing this instead of being repulsed. Somewhere in America, racism is alive and well.