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Thoughts On The Jena 6

A quick way of coming up to speed on this case is to read the Wikipedia entry on the Jena 6. It is about a whole series of incidents in the small town of Jena, Louisiana culminating in the charging of six black high school students.

Chris Kromm of Facing South asked Why the ‘progressive’ blogosphere silence about the Jena 6?

I would ask Chris why he thinks that liberal blogtopia consists of a half dozen “A-List” sites that generally discuss politics? I have seen stories about the Jena 6 for a long time at the sites I visit, maybe Chris should stop by over here and start clicking down my blog roll.

I was going to post on the CNN story today, but Scout at First Draft already had her post, Nooses, up and Athenae had her comments. I assume that people who stop by my place also stop by theirs, so I went on to other things while waiting for the tropical weather to move by.

My personal feelings about the case will probably shock some people, but they need to consider my perspective. Reading the stories I was amazed at how far we have come in the last fifty years.

I grew up down here. I remember what it was like with the White and Colored signs all around, and a violent penalty for ignoring them. In those days the Jena story would have been much simpler and shorter. The black teenagers who sat under the White tree would have been in those nooses in short order, to remind the other blacks of their place.

The white teenagers in this version were penalized. Not much a penalty, but when I was a child they would have been praised and allowed to attend the lynching.

The Jena 6 were arrested, not lynched. They were given attorneys. There have been trials and appeals. Were they treated equally and fairly? No, but they received a hell of a lot more justice today than when I was child down here.

It’s a long journey. We haven’t arrived, but I believe we are headed in the right direction.


1 Badtux { 09.22.07 at 4:35 pm }

Indeed, I first learned about the Jena 6 several months ago from either Scout at First Draft or Desi at Mia Culpa, I don’t recall which. I don’t think I blogged about it but it isn’t because of lack of concern, it’s more because of being speechless that this kind of silliness is still going on today, combined with the issues of Iraq, “Homeland Security”, and health care sucking up a lot of the oxygen on my blog.

2 Steve Bates { 09.22.07 at 5:53 pm }

Bryan, your attitude is not shocking to me, because it was more or less my late father’s take, based on the progress during his lifetime (1920-1995). Two things hold me back from agreeing with you.

First, racially-driven violence has gotten measurably worse again since Dad’s death; pick up any issue of either of Southern Poverty Law Center‘s flagship publications for confirmation of that.

Second, that is no accident: Nixon and crew began the GOP’s “Southern strategy” decades before Dad’s death, and though it is now more covert, that hate-filled approach to vote-getting is very much with us today, as much a part of Lee Atwater’s strategies for Reagan and Karl Rove’s for GeeDubya as it was of Nixon’s GOP. People’s racial fears are encouraged, whatever anyone may say publicly. Obviously, the GOP is not the sole source, nor are all the hate groups white… but if those two sources were reduced or eliminated, the problem would be a lot more manageable.

A couple of things about the Jena incidents disappointed me a lot…

One was the decision not to charge any of the noose-hanging white students. The D.A. claimed no laws were violated. That seems highly improbable to me. If nooses do not represent a credible threat by whites to murder blacks, what does? I presume it is illegal in Louisiana to threaten seriously to murder someone.

Another was the D.A.’s decision to start out with attempted murder charges for what appeared to be the equivalent of a barroom brawl in terms of violence: someone cold-cocked someone, then kicked him a few times. The victim was released from the hospital almost immediately and attended a party that night. Attempted murder? One would think that, with the victim already unconscious, the perpetrator would have had an opportunity to complete the act if murder were his intent. Even aggravated battery seems a stretch, based as it was on the tennis shoe as a “deadly weapon,” though I agree that matter is not as clear-cut. Was a crime committed? Probably. And I do not condone even that much violence; it solves nothing, and it is probably against the law. But calling it attempted murder is just deliberately inflammatory.

Just because the trees don’t bear Strange Fruit as often as they did 50-100 years ago is scant reason, IMHO, to believe things are any closer to resolution today. Better? yes. But it will take a much tougher attitude… and a complete cessation of the enabling of racial fear and hatred for political purposes on the part of one of our major political parties… before I will feel any of the improvement. (There is some irony here: if you look back far enough, the Democrats were more apt to perpetrate racial violence. But in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the roles of the parties have been emphatically and intentionally reversed.)

This is an aside, but only a bit of one: remember, at the time O.J. was acquitted, virtually all African Americans thought he was in fact innocent, and virtually all white Americans thought he got away with murder. We’re still pretty far apart on the basic life-and-death issues, and I’m not sure it is yet possible for whites (FTR, for other readers, I am white) to see it from a black American’s perspective.

3 Steve Bates { 09.22.07 at 5:57 pm }

Oops. For “Democrats were more apt to perpetrate racial violence,” please read “Democrats were more apt to foster racial violence.” The original statement may be true as well, but I do not know that for a fact.

4 Bryan { 09.22.07 at 7:35 pm }

Personal violence ebbs and flows with the economy, but I’m speaking of the institutional violence. Public officials are at least making an effort at hiding their prejudice, and some of the earlier violence is being addressed.

Being a member of the Klan is no longer a guaranteed “get out of jail free” card, like it once was.

I’m not saying things are wonderful, but they are damn sure better than the late 1950s and early 1960s. I don’t want people to forget the real dangers that the early civil rights workers faced, or the courage it took to get involved.

Like Badtux says, it’s mind boggling that there are still pockets of this garbage all over the country. We have other problems and shouldn’t have to keep coming back to hit new generations up side the head with a 2X4 to stop this crap.