"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Louisiana Racism vs the Jena Six

From Amy Goodman:

Last week in Detroit, the NAACP held a mock funeral for the N-word. But a chilling case in Louisiana shows us how far we have to go to bury racism. This story begins in the small central Louisiana town of Jena. Last September, a black high school student requested the school’s permission to sit beneath a broad, leafy tree in the hot schoolyard. Until then, only white students sat there.

The next morning, three nooses were hanging from the tree. The black students responded en masse. Justin Purvis, the kid who first sat under the tree, told filmmaker Jacquie Soohen: “They [other black students] said, ‘Y’all want to go stand under the tree?’ We said, ‘Yeah.’ They said, ‘If you go, I’ll go. If you go, I’ll go.’ One person went, the next person went, everybody else just went.”

Then the police and the district attorney showed up. Substitute teacher Michelle Rogers recounts: “District Attorney Reed Walters proceeded to tell those kids that ‘I could end your lives with the stroke of a pen.’ ”

It didn’t happen for a few more months, but that is exactly what the district attorney is trying to do.

Jena, a community of 4,000, is about 85 percent white. While the black community gathered at a church to respond, others didn’t see the significance. Soohen interviewed Jena town librarian Barbara Murphy, who reflected: “The nooses? I don’t even know why they were there, what they were supposed to mean. There’s pranks all the time, of one type or another, going on. And it just didn’t seem to be racist to me.” Tensions rose.

Robert Bailey, a black student, was beaten up at a white party. Then, a few nights later, Robert and two others were threatened by a white man with a sawed-off shotgun at a convenience store. They wrestled the gun away and fled. Robert’s mother, Caseptla Bailey, said: “I know they were in fear of their lives. They were afraid that this man was going to shoot them, you know, especially in the back, running away from the scene.”

The next day, Dec. 4, 2006, a fight broke out at the school. A white student was injured, taken to the hospital and released. Robert Bailey and five other black students were charged … with second-degree attempted murder. They each faced 100 years in prison. The black community was reeling.

Independent journalist Jordan Flaherty was the first to break the story nationally. He explained: “I’m sure it was a serious fight, and I’m sure it deserved real discipline within the school system, but he [the white student] was out later that day. He was smiling. He was with friends … it was a serious school problem that came on the heels of a long series of other events … as soon as black students were involved, that’s when the hammer came down.”

The African-American community began to call them the Jena Six. The first to be tried was Mychal Bell, 17 years old and a talented football player who was looking forward to a university scholarship. Bell was offered a plea deal, but he refused it. His father, Marcus Jones, took a few minutes off from work to talk to me: “Here in LaSalle Parish, whenever a black man is offered a plea bargain, he is innocent. That’s a dead giveaway here in the South.”

Right before the trial, the charges of second-degree attempted murder were lowered to aggravated battery, which under Louisiana law requires a dangerous weapon. The weapon? Tennis shoes.

Mychal Bell was convicted by an all-white jury. His court-appointed defense attorney called no witnesses. Bell will be sentenced on July 31; he faces a possible 22 years. The remaining five teens, several of whom were jailed for months, unable to make bail, still face second-degree attempted murder charges and a hundred years each in prison.

Flaherty, who grew up in New Orleans, sums up the case of the Jena Six: “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.”

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco gained national prominence during Hurricane Katrina. There’s another hurricane that’s devastating the lives of her constituents: racism. The families of the Jena Six are asking her to intervene. District Attorney Walters says he can end the boys’ lives with his pen. But Gov. Blanco’s pen is mightier. She should wield it, now, for justice for the Jena Six.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 500 stations in North America.

19 comments:

  1. It says a lot that this is the first time, since this article has been published, that someone has made a comment in reply to this article.

    It also says a lot that this has not been much more broadcasted across America.

    My senators are going to hear about this. I will definitely see to it that they do. This is not fair, and it needs to stop.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am outraged by this nonsense that is still happening in 2007. I hope and trust that the REAL CHRISTIAN leaders will do something to save these children's lives. EVERYONE SHOULD BE TREATED THE SAME! The reason for the "Christian" leaders is because I can almost assure you those in Jena, LA are calling themselves Christians but we all know the truth. Please I beg you to make this article a BIG deal. This needs to END!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous2:07 PM

    A friend told me about this story and I just had to read it for myself. These are the actions and injustices I read about in earlier times. I knew that the world we live in still dealt with racism, but I couldn't have guessed, today, that OUR government could be so outwardly blatent. Usually the system gets away with its prejudices by painting a pretty picture to cover it's ugly face, but this? This is horrifying! After reading this, I must do someting, tell someone. I'll be thinking about these string of recent events for a very long time.
    ~Jenice Cosme

    ReplyDelete
  4. I´ve just learned about this case through a documentary on British BBC. It's unbeliavable that these situations still take place in DEMOCRATIC and FREE USA. It's a wound that needs to heal among American society.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Gene Jones8:55 AM

    I am a 60 year old white man who was born in TN and grew up in NC. I saw the race riots of the 60's. It was a hateful time in our nation. It is things like this that should bring our LEADERS back to the constitution and to what our country is really all about. Get away from the small minded individuals who abuse their positions to furthr personal prejudice. I pray for the Jena Six.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This is not a christian nation. The name of the Lord is used to justify all there evil deeds, kill all the American indians then take their land, made the African Americans less of a man(slaves) and this was all done in the name of Jesus Christ--- "elijah emmanuel" ----- go figure. So this does not surprise me, i just pray the supreme being rescues these poor souls. Femo one nice keep the good job up.
    n.b
    Don't be surprised this has not gotten any wide media coverage (the big networks will never touch stuff like this) the propaganda has to to go on "we live in denial" . To get real news you just have to be determined, real news is out there--wbai is a radio station (online/other) that you can get some real news from.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Anonymous7:56 PM

    I don't even know where to start. It is sad that things of this nature even seem to appear in this day and age.

    Where we have so much technology and education to cure various disease yet we can't solve the problem to cure the problem of the mind where "racism" lurkes to someone of different religion, race, creed, and or origin that differs from the Caucasian race.

    These gentlemen made a mistake that many boys go through when it comes to fighting, but when does "fighting" amongst boys rise to the degree of attempted murder?

    I have to confess that it has been stated many times that IN the United States
    "all men are created equal" except when it relates to Black and White!

    What happened to that dream, "that little black boys and little white boys can one day play together" does that mean "they can't fight together?"

    ReplyDelete
  8. Anonymous10:30 AM

    It is apparent that even though our society prides itself in helping bring Democracy around the world; it is not done so here! The white feel this is their country and the black they have'nt gotten reparation for what was done to them! And we are asking the Iraquis to look at us for a model of Democracy? There is much work to be done but it starts with one person and it heats up again!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Lionel W. Junior12:04 PM

    The Long dark nightmare of racism, many thought was finally over. However, what I just read in this article about the "Jena Six" tells us all that the nightmare of racism may never end. In a country of our magnitude, why hasn't someone who has the authority to do something for these young Black men, do it? I appeal to the Governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco to step in and bring an end to this miscarriage of justice. I am sick and tired of the discrimination in this country. But my mother used to always say, "What goes around, comes around." Always remember, not only do those who commit a wrong will be punished, but those who allow a wrong to go unpunished will also face judgement. And perhaps more cruelly because they had an opportunity to do something, but didn't. If Gov. Blanco will not step in, I appeal to President Bush to please make right what the Distrist Attorney in this small Louisiana parish is doing to your citizens, one of your states, and to the integrity of this country. It was James Russell Lowell who once penned these words, "Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide, in the strife of truth with falshood, for the good or evil side." We need someone who has more authority than I to take their stand on the side of good.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Joe Teague Jr8:25 AM

    Just heard about this story on the Russ Parr Show. It is broadcasted across many air waves, in many states. The message and story has definetly hit the main stream, our prayers are with the families. They were calling for action from the National Bar Association, the NAACP, and so forth.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Anonymous11:32 AM

    I just read the article and I am appall about what is still happening in this country. I remember in a school fight you get suspended for a couple of days but to end up in court (for attempted murder) is ridiculous. This is the waste of our tax dollars on a foolish school fight that could have been handled in a different manner.

    I urge people who are reading or have read this article to write the GovernorBlanco and President Bush to help these young men.

    This needs to be heard nationally. Everyone needs to know what is still on in this country. This should be aired on TV instead of Vick's ddog fighting case, Britney's custody battle, etc. You can see what is important to the media.

    I will pray for these young men and their families I hope that justice is done and Let these young men "FREE".

    ReplyDelete
  12. Anonymous11:15 AM

    As an educator, I find this very sad. We are a nation that must value our freedoms and nurture tolerance and compassion for our differences. It is very sad.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anonymous11:53 AM

    This is an outrage! District Attorney Walters says he "can end the boys’ lives with his pen."
    ???? What more do we need to put him in jail. I am a white female from NYC and this doesn't surprise me happening in the south. This white kid came out of the hospital smiling and later with his friends, so clearly he is fine. His parents taught him this hatred. People aren't born with it, they are taught it. Thanks Mr. and Mrs. White Boy's parents, for passing on this wonderful ignorance that keeps us living in the past.
    Oh and by the way Miss Librarian, Barbara Murphy, you say “The nooses? I don’t even know why they were there, what they were supposed to mean. There’s pranks all the time, of one type or another, going on. And it just didn’t seem to be racist to me.” - Maybe you want to go into the history section of that library you work at and check out a book on the Civil War, or Slavery. That quote may have been the worst part of the whole story!!

    ReplyDelete
  14. NEW YORK CITY7:34 PM

    I AM A WHITE FEMALE THAT GREW UP AROUND AFRICAN AMERICANS SINCE BIRTH. THEY ARE WONDERFUL PEOPLE.
    MY HUSBAND IS BLACK AND I HAVE 4 CHILDREN WHO ARE BEAUTIFUL. THIS IS RIDICULOUS THAT THESE BOYS HAVE TO SUFFER. GOV. BLANCO NEEDS TO FREE THE JENA SIX LIKE RIGHT NOW. THIS SOUNDS LIKE SOME KKK S...!!!! IF A FIGHT BROKE OUT AND THE WHITE KID GOT HURT. HE SHOULD TAKE SOME FIGHTING LESSONS FROM THE AFRICAN AMERICANS. I LEARNED EVERYTHING FROM THE AFRICAN AMERICANS. HOW TO FIGHT WHEN NEEDED, JUMP DOUBLE DUTCH, DANCE, AND I LOVE THE MUSIC. IT CANT GET NO BETTER THAN THIS. AND TRUST ME I LOVE MYSELF AND MY COLOR AND MY FAMILY, BUT THE RACISM NEEDS TO DIE ALREADY. DON'T HATE-PARTICIPATE. YOU MIGHT LEARN SOMETHING. YOU HAVE TO GET GOV.BLANCO INVOLVED. SHE NEEDS TO DO HER JOB FORGET WHAT THE WHITE PEOPLE SAY, THEY JUST HATE BLACKS.
    DO YOUR JOB GOVERNOR IF YOU WANT TO EARN SOMETHING MORE. DO YOUR JOB AND GIVE THESE YOUNG BOYS BACK THEIR FREEDOM.......KEEP PRAYING TO GOD JENA SIX. HE IS WITH YOU ALWAYS.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Anonymous8:08 PM

    I am outraged at what the govenmnet is doing to these young men. They are still lynching just another way of doing it. I am from the South and would never consider going back. The Govenor need to step up and say enough is enough.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Anonymous1:28 AM

    How is this happening in 2007? Where is the NAACP? The ACLU??? Aside from racism, hate speach, hate crimes and a host of other unconstitutional actions by the school/town how in the world is the court getting away with this? This small article goes into no detail yet I can find at least 5 grounds to appeal and over turn this verdict! Can anyone say legal malpractice? Malicious Prosecution? It makes my stomach turn to think this is allowed in our justice system.

    Dawn VanHorn-Heath, Esq.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Anonymous10:46 PM

    I am outraged by this situation. Blacks have gone through a lot of turmoil to stop racism. As a young african american female I am directly affected. I cant believe how closed minded people from Louisiana can be, they have overcame the struggles from Hurricane Katrina and have seen how everything that they have could be taken away from them in the blink of an eye and they have the audacity to take the freedom from 6 teenagers over something that could have been solved with a warning or a communtiy service. I hope that the thousands of activists, leaders and concerned individuals can come down there and help to make a difference for these young adults. My heart goes out to them.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Anonymous2:17 PM

    I have researched all the related incidents seperately and I am concerned (although not surprised) with how the media has left out important details. The absence of these details sensationalizes these incidents and makes them appear more racially (both black and white) motivated than what had actually occurred. Having said that the "criminal justice" treatment of the involved black youths is absolutely incredible.
    Anon

    ReplyDelete
  19. Anonymous7:12 PM

    I am from NYC and moved down here in Louisiana. There is racism everyhere. It came as quite a shock to me because I am white but being around I have seen and heard it. Its really sad to see quite frankly. Its weird because I am used to differant multicultural people and things who dont care what you look like and you could be anything you wanted to be, but here people are used to the old mentality. There are confederate flags everywhere and I am also a minority being from the north. I hope that in the next 50 years this country can put aside racism.

    ReplyDelete