Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Tree Grows in Jena

The White Tree in Jena, LA.

I am pissed off again. Have you heard of the Jena 6? I hadn’t until yesterday, when a friend sent me an email telling me about a legal battle raging in Louisiana. Ironically, it all began with a tree on a high school campus in a small town called Jena, nicknamed the "White Tree" because only white students sat under it during lunch and breaks. One day a black student asked the school principal during assembly if blacks were allowed to sit under the tree. The next day three hangman's nooses appeared, dangling from the tree. If you want to find out what happened next, click on some of the following links:

Jena Six Wikipedia

If you have heard of the Jena 6, then I hope you’re as angry as I am that this sort of insidious, institutionalized racism is still happening. No, I'm not surprised that racism is still around but I am surprised by what short memories our elected officials have. I was in Los Angeles in 1992 after the Rodney King verdict and I remember the feelings of unease and anger that brewed during that trial and then exploded in the L.A. Riots/Rodney King uprising - whatever you want to call that insurrection doesn't make a difference here. What matters is that Los Angeles proved that it would not tolerate institutionalized racism in that instance without a fight and Jena, Louisiana will do the same. Oh yeah, I am pissed and I am not alone. Newsweek quotes a man named Ray Hodges who claims to have planted the tree (which has since been cut down) 20 years ago: "I watched that tree grow...It was planted as a tree of knowledge. But guess what it became? It became a tree of ignorance."

There is a peaceful march planned for tomorrow morning in Louisiana. Let’s hope that peaceful measures work. I signed the online petition and am doing my bit to spread the word but I’m too old and crotchety to be satisfied with that. When the charges against those kids are dropped (and I know we will make that happen), we must make sure to write down the names of the politicians who showed support, the celebrities who showed their support, the businesses that showed support. Clip their names to your bulletin board, get a magnet and put them on your fridge, but do not forget them. We must vote at the ballot box and with our dollars because these 6 kids are just the tip of a giant iceberg. When this is all over and the marchers and media go home there will still be other kids at that high school who will still have to contend with hostile conditions. We need to make sure that we set those kids up for success. All children, regardless of color, deserve leaders who teach them about justice and equality with their actions. Inaction sends a message of cowardice and who needs cowardly leaders?

I hope you will join me in spreading the word, signing the petition, and calling for our leaders to step up and tell us where they stand on this! It's disgusting that in 2007 we are still dealing with the strange and bitter fruit wrought by America's economic roots in the slave trade, but it does us no good to look the other way. When racism rears its ugly head we must kick it in the face.

Billie Holiday sums up my emotions at this moment much better than I can express in words. Here's Ms. Holiday singing her great song, Strange Fruit courtesy of YouTube.


Kelly Thompson said...

Thanks for posting this Alice. So we've signed the petition... I wonder how long we wait until the next move? I can only hope that they let that kid go sooon!

If not we're in for a ride.


Stacy said...

Seriously, the kid should be RELEASED for beating someone unconscious? Where exactly does that logic come from? He was "provoked?" Yet took three months to do anything about it??

Kelly Thompson said...

Stacy I think you should do some more research on this case.

What about the white kids that beat the black kid why are they not in jail? In all that I've read and seen he wasn't unconscious I saw pictures of him and illustrations of his injuries. He didn't look good but not close to death.

Also he went to a social function that night after brief treatment and release.

I understand your statement but no.... If he's in jail for attempted murder than the white shit kickers should be in the cell next to him.

As far as your 3 month statement HUH! Obviously tension has been mounting in this town for some time.

Wow just blows my mind this statement!

Stacy said...

Yes, sweetheart, the assault for which the boys were arrested happened over three months after the noose incident. Perhaps you are the one who should do a little research.

Whatever has gone on between the white and black kids of that community, only ONE person was beaten to the point of hospitalization. Regardless what your little brain thinks, that is assault. If any of the "white shit kickers," as you call them, commit the same level of offense, then they should be charged equally, yes.

However, calliing for the outright release of someone based on their skin color is just as racist as anything else happening in that town.

Alice Bag said...

A noose hanging from a tree is an act of hatred and harassment. It is not a joke. The community leaders should have interceded and made it clear that this offense would not be tolerated. Instead they treated it as a joke.

There are many documented instances of racial tension and racial violence during the three months following the noose hangings that you are not mentioning here Stacy, including an armed attack on black students by a white student. Any attempt to separate the actions of the Jena 6 from the context in which they occurred is a gross distortion of the truth.

I do feel sorry for the kids that were beaten up and those who were harassed. I feel especially sorry for kids that are raised by ignorant adults that don’t teach them to respect diversity. They are being done a great disservice. They’ll find themselves in trouble in the future because people like me are not going to tolerate their behavior.

So Stacy, instead of leading the lynch mob maybe you should lead the effort to correct the situations that led to the racial tension in Jena in the first place.

Kelly Thompson said...

You said it your self pea brain "Assault" not "Attempted Murder". This is why Bell should be released. This kid has been in jail since December. I think time served is even over kill!

I also believe that "hospitalization", being treated and released are quite different. Was the black young man attacked by white students treated for his injuries when he was attacked with a bottle? I truly don't know. Perhaps he was too scared or didn't have the for site to photograph his injuries and hire a lawyer. How ever I do know the white boys were charged with assault and released.

This case is about equal justice and civil rights.

Stacy said...

Kelly, poppet, I realize reading that entire Wiki page is probably too much to ask you, but if you had, you'd have seen that the attempted murder charge was reduced to something more appropriate. Try not to embarrass yourself, honey, in your stretch to become socially relevant.

Alice, sweetie, you're advocating RELEASING someone who has broken the law, just because he is black. As I said, that's just as racist as anything else going on down there. And don't you dare accuse ME of "leading the lynch mob" for daring to declare this entire mess ridiculous. You sound quite like Al Sharpton there, and are one of the reasons racism issues will never ever be left in the past where they belong.

Conversation over. Thanks for not listening.

godoggo said...

Wow, seems like nobody finds this confusing except me.

godoggo said...

Ah, good, Matt Yglesias has blogged on the matter, which generally means that the bullshit may be considered cut.

Kelly Thompson said...

Ah Ha! You're so much smarter than anyone else!!!

It's still too much time dolly!!!!!

Kelly Thompson said...

Cont. What this boils down to for me is I can justify this in my mind as a injustice.

Next would be Mychal Bell's criminal record. I feel that given this town's record I wouldn't be surprised if over 50 percent of black men in this town have at least one minor charge against them. And yes I understand that the D.A. is within his legal right to charge Bell with a more serious charge than assault. But I truly believe that he has still spent time served. That just feels more appropriate to me. If I'm wrong I apologize. I would love to be proven wrong because that would mean that this isn't as messed up as it seems. But its what I feel now with the information I have.

P.S. I did read the whole wiki page but felt that even with a reduced sentence the punishment HAS BEEN SERVED. I thought I made that clear and didn't feel that the reduced charge was relevant. What is relevant to me regarding the reduced charge was the work and protest by people who believe in civil rights and equal justice.
Because they are the ones who got that done.

godoggo said...

I think it’s worth reading this much-linked commentary on the subject by Kansas sports columnist Jason Whitlock, whose photo betrays a high level of melanin (which isn’t the only reason for its relevance; apparently authorities had been winking at Bell’s violent behavior because he was a star athlete – sound familiar? – which is where Whitlock’s sports knowledge comes in). The article has also been much quoted out of context (e.g. in the comments of the Yglesias thread I linked above), which I’m not going to do, plus I’m lazy. It does strike me as refuting some of the points in Alice’s comment, and I realize that just stating that is a lame way of having a discussion, but that’s all your gonna get out of me.

Anyway, Matt Y. concisely made some good points, which I’ll copy and paste with the following excerpts in the following excerpts (which constitute like 75% of the post):

“What you have now is a situation where you have some black kids getting unduly harsh punishments, and some white kids who've already gotten unduly lenient ones. The problem, again, is that you can't retrospectively tighten up the white kids' punishments, so you'll wind up with disproportionate outcomes unless you end up with an outcome on the Jena 6 case that's probably too lenient on the narrow merits of that particular question. It seems to me, however, that this is what justice demands given the absence of a practical alternative.”

“…as you see with the mobilization around the Jena 6, you're going to keep having race-oriented grievance politics in the African-American community as long as all these grievances keep happening. There's a reason that style of political leadership has long been compelling to black people, it's appeal has waned somewhat as the objective level of grievance has waned, but the persistence of racial inequities in the justice system is very well known and yet white people (myself included) rarely actually say or do anything about it.”

Incidentally, this seems relevant: y’all do know the Watts Towers festival is today, right? I need to get done the shit that needs doing if I’m going to have time to catch any of it, so later.

godoggo said...

One of these days, I swear I'm going to learn to spell relevance.

godoggo said...

Hmm, by all appearances, I was mistaken about that whole "The Watts Towers Festival is today, so I better hurry up and get the shit what needs doing done" thing. Oh, well. Nobody ever called me "Joe Calendar."

Alice Bag said...

Godogo, I have to agree with you that claiming to refute some of my points and then not clearly stating which points or how they are refuted is a lame way to have a discussion.

The musings of a Kansas City sportswriter who infamously defended Don Imus’s “nappy headed ho’s” statement are not what I would consider informed opinions. The fact that he happens to be black does not lend any more validity to his arguments. If that were true, we’d all be swallowing the opinions of the US Atty Don Washington hook, line and sinker. If by refutation, you mean Don Washington’s claim that there was no connection between the noose incident and the subsequent white on black / black on white violence that engulfed Jena then I can do no better than to offer the following link to a synopsis of the original Mychal Bell trial, written by someone who was actually present in the courtroom and in Jena at the time. I suspect that the ultimate success of the prosecution of Mychal Bell is going to depend on how well the DA can present the beating of Justin Barker as an isolated incident unrelated to the school’s handling of the noose hangings. Washington, as a U.S. attorney is setting the stage for that bit of theater.

Why aren’t you asking yourself why the kid who pulled the shotgun on the students hasn’t been in jail since December the way Mychal Bell has, or doesn’t that seem relevant? Don’t you ever wonder why there are so many Latinos and Blacks in prison?

The real reason Jena is consuming so much of everyone’s attention is because it is a tiny microcosm of the rest of the country. The whites get white justice and the blacks get put in jail. It’s like that all over the United States, not just in Jena. Don’t even get me started on rich man’s justice versus poor man’s justice. In this country, justice is not blind. In this country, justice has been prostituted.

Knowing what we now know about how justice has been dispensed in Jena in the past, can we say with certainty that Mychal Bell received a fair trial? It seems to me that even some fair minded individuals are struggling with the idea of letting a so-called "thug" free but you have to ask yourself who is it that is branding Mychal Bell a thug? How much do we really know about his prior convictions aside from a couple of lines in a news column? How much confidence can we have in a system that would have put Bell away for 20 years on an attempted murder charge if "meddlesome outsiders" hadn't intervened?

I would love to be able to put racism in the past where it belongs, however wishing doesn’t make it so. Shining a light on it and fighting against it is the only way that we will one day put it behind us.

godoggo said...

"Why aren’t you asking yourself why the kid who pulled the shotgun on the students hasn’t been in jail since December the way Mychal Bell has, or doesn’t that seem relevant? Don’t you ever wonder why there are so many Latinos and Blacks in prison?"

That was essentially what the Yglesias quotes addressed. I'm not disagreeing with you on that.

BTW, question (not rhetorical, BTW; I'm really not into gotcha games): what did the individual kid who was attacked do instigate it? Anything?

godoggo said...

One more thing: as I said before, my initial response to all this was confusion, rather than high dudgeon, because it's such a complicated situation, with few innocents among the major actors. And my interpretation of your post was really the same as Stacy's i.e. that you think that institutional racism justifies 6 people getting together and stomping on somebody, and that this justification ought to be recognized by law - not that the problem is racial inequity in the doling out of justice to people who commit crimes.

godoggo said...

OK, question in my 10:23 AM comment retracted.

godoggo said...

That trial synopsis you linked to really clarified things.

GV said...

"Several eyewitnesses recall that the initial punch was preceded by the shouted words, “This will teach you to run your mother f***ing mouth.” This statement, repeated by too many witnesses to be seriously doubted, makes no sense apart from the trash talking described in student statements."

You can say what you want about "stick and stones" but in the climate of fear and tension that had descended upon Jena by the time of Justin Barker's beating, it's understandable and perhaps even inevitable that someone was going to get their ass kicked or worse. I know with certainty that I would not have been able to ignore racist taunting and I am a grown man, not a 16 year old boy. If someone burns a cross on my lawn and I find out who did it, I don't turn the other cheek, even if it takes me several months to track him down. That's may not be justice Jena style but it's entirely justified.

Anonymous said...

Don’t you ever wonder why there are so many Latinos and Blacks in prison?

No, I don't wonder. It's because they commit crimes.

It's a problem that's easily remedied: Don't break the law.

Anonymous said...

Or you can break the law and hire a good attorney.

Kelly Thompson said...

I'm happy about Bell's release. I look forward to see if justice will be served. Thanks to people who believe in equal justice for speaking out, protesting and signing the petition. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Here's a story people on all sides of this issue should read. We're all wrong: