The Jena 6

Ken AshfordRace1 Comment

Bacgkround of the situation so far in this an excellent summary from the L.A. Times:

In December, six black boys jumped a white boy at the high school here and beat him while he lay unconscious.

The victim was taken to the hospital, but he was not gravely hurt. He attended a class ring ceremony later that evening.

The black boys were charged with attempted murder, which threatened to put them in prison for most of their lives. The district attorney alleged they’d used a deadly weapon: their sneakers.

The case of the so-called Jena Six has elicited outrage around the world — not only because of the stiff charges brought against the black teenagers, but because of the stark contrast between the way black boys and white boys in the same town were treated.

The assault was the culmination of months of racial unrest in Jena (pronounced JEE-nuh), a former sawmill town of about 3,000 people in the backwoods of central Louisiana. It started at the beginning of the last school year, when a black freshman at Jena High School asked the vice principal during a school assembly whether he could sit under the “white tree,” a gnarled oak on campus where white students gathered to escape the stifling Southern heat. He was told to sit wherever he wanted.

The following day last September, three hangman’s nooses were dangling from the oak’s branches. Two months later, the school was set on fire.

The three white boys who hung the nooses were identified but not expelled or charged with a hate crime; they were suspended for three days. No one has been charged in the arson.

The charges of attempted murder were later reduced, and the first of the black kids to go to trial was found guilty of aggrivated second-degree battery by an all-white jury (one of whom was a friend of the victim’s father).  That crime would have carried a sentence of up to 22 years.  However, that conviction was recently overturned, in part because the kid was wrongly tried as an adult.

Today there is a massive rally for the Jena 6; the Southern Porverty Law Center warns about expected white supremacist activity there.

One particular web posting, on the white supremacist message board, came from former Baton Rouge neo-Nazi leader Robert Moore. In the posting, Moore wrote about police security arrangements in Jena and whether weapons would be allowed in certain areas. "Remember, Louisiana is an open-carry state, and your vehicle is an extention [sic] of your home," he wrote. "We also have the right to defend ourselves if attacked.". 

David Bowie has contributed $10,000 for their defense.

And it’s getting political:

* Jesse Jackson criticized Barack Obama for not speaking out more forcefully on the Jena 6:

"If I were a candidate, I’d be all over Jena," Jackson was quoted as saying. "Jena is a defining moment, just like Selma was a defining moment." By not seizing on the issue more, Obama was "acting like he’s white," the paper quoted Jackson as saying. Jackson, who endorsed Obama in March, today denied making that last comment, while The State stood by its reporting. Obama’s campaign, meanwhile, noted that he had made a strong statement on the matter last week, when he called for the district attorney to drop the charges and said, "When nooses are being hung in high schools in the 21st century, it’s a tragedy. It shows that we still have a lot of work to do as a nation to heal our racial tensions."

* Hillary is calling the Jena 6 controversy "a teachable moment"

* Jesse Jackson is attacking Obama for not being vocal enough on the Jena 6, saying that Obama is "acting like he’s white".  Personally, I don’t think that’s a good tack, Jesse.  Maybe that’s why he "backpeddled".

* Edwards calls for "racial justice" for the Jena 6:

"As someone who grew up in the segregated South, I feel a special responsibility to speak out on racial intolerance.  To measure our progress in the fight against racism, today our nation looks to Jena, Louisiana.  Americans of all races are traveling to Jena because they believe that how we respond to the racial tensions in Jena says everything about who we are as a nation."

I find this all slightly ironic, considering that this took place 50 years ago next Tuesday:


That’s the National Guard escorting nine black kids into Little Rock Central High School (September 25, 1957)