A teenager whose arrest in a racially charged assault case drew thousands of protesters to his rural Louisiana hometown was in a hospital early Tuesday after a shooting that his lawyer said was accidental.
Mychal Bell was cleaning a gun when it accidentally discharged, shooting him in the shoulder, his attorney, Carol Powell-Lexing, told CNN. He had surgery Monday night at a hospital in Monroe, Louisiana, and has not yet been able to talk, she said.
Monroe police Sgt. Cassandra Wooten said the wound was not life-threatening.
Bell was one of the Jena high school students charged as adults with attempted murder in a case where he ultimately pleaded to assault in juvenile court, following the hanging of a noose in a tree in the school courtyard. It was a pretty ugly case, and Bell was the one who went to jail, while two of his Jena 6 mates went to the BET Awards.
...that it took a white folk rock artist to pen the protest song that captures the indignity and shame of the Jena 6 situation. With proper big ups to Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Life Jennings, Bun B and other true hip-hop artists who definitely made some noise, and Ice Cube, who showed up at the protests in Setember, here is the first real protest song about Jena, Louisiana, by John Mellencamp:
Meanwhile, the mayor of Jena takes offense:
"The town of Jena has for months been mischaracterized in the media and portrayed as the epicenter of hatred, racism and a place where justice is denied," Jena Mayor Murphy R. McMillin wrote in a statement on town letterhead faxed on Friday to The Associated Press.
He said he had previously stayed quiet, hoping that the town's courtesy to people who have visited over the past year would speak for itself. "However, the Mellencamp video is so inflammatory, so defamatory, that a line has been crossed and enough is enough."
No, Mr. Mayor, it's not quite enough. Your town, deservedly, will enter the history books alongside Money, Mississippi and Birmingham, Alabama, not for actual lynchings and violence, but for the same scandalous racism and segregationist attitudes that made those prior horrors possible. One can easily imagine the white townsfolk of Jena standing around a tree at an old fashioned "picnic," watching the strange fruit swinging from the tree. Hyperbole? Maybe. But recall that it was ordinary people -- presumably "good, churchgoing" people, who perpetrated the horrors of America's past. They didn't think they were particularly remarkable, or the nooses particularly offensive.
The big difference is, they would have lynched the Jena 6 outright, rather than charging them with murder. And the white students who hung nooses, broke bottles over the heads of a young Black man and pulled a gun on him, wouldn't have been hidden from public view, they would have been celebrated in Jena.
Hopefully sometime soon, we'll have some hip-hop and R&B protest music to immortalize you further.
The widely villified district attorney for LaSalle Parish, Louisiana pens an op-ed in the New York Times, explaining why he didn't charge the students who hung three nooses from a tree in Jena, Louisiana with a crime, and why he felt that the attack on white student Justin Barker, who he claims had nothing to do with the noose incident, was a case of attempted murder. Walters writes that the hanging of nooses broke no law under the Louisiana criminal code. And he quotes the African-American U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana in stating that it did not qualify as a hate crime, and that furthermore, no stand-alone hate crim law exists under Louisiana law. Fair enough. He then adds this:
Last week, a reporter asked me whether, if I had it to do over, I would do anything differently. I didn’t think of it at the time, but the answer is yes. I would have done a better job of explaining that the offenses of Dec. 4, 2006, did not stem from a “schoolyard fight” as it has been commonly described in the news media and by critics.
Conjure the image of schoolboys fighting: they exchange words, clench fists, throw punches, wrestle in the dirt until classmates or teachers pull them apart. Of course that would not be aggravated second-degree battery, which is what the attackers are now charged with. (Five of the defendants were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder.) But that’s not what happened at Jena High School.
The victim in this crime, who has been all but forgotten amid the focus on the defendants, was a young man named Justin Barker, who was not involved in the nooses incident three months earlier. According to all the credible evidence I am aware of, after lunch, he walked to his next class. As he passed through the gymnasium door to the outside, he was blindsided and knocked unconscious by a vicious blow to the head thrown by Mychal Bell. While lying on the ground unaware of what was happening to him, he was brutally kicked by at least six people.
Imagine you were walking down a city street, and someone leapt from behind a tree and hit you so hard that you fell to the sidewalk unconscious. Would you later describe that as a fight?
Uh-huh ... Walters also takes the opportunity to play down the recent protests in Jena, undercutting even the low-balled Associated Press count by stating that "10,000 people" came to his "little town" of Jena on September 20th. And his column, while dripping with sympatico for Justin Barker, fails to answer some important questions:
What did Justin Barker say to Robert Bailey Jr. before he was attacked, initially by Mychael Bell according to prosecutors?) According to eyewitnesses, Barker mocked Bailey for having been beaten, and hit in the head with a bottle, by a white man named Justin Sloan the Friday before at a place called the Fair Barn. (Barker denies it). Sloan, by the way, was charged only with simple battery -- not attempted murder. In his op-ed, Walters didn't even mention the Fair Barn incident.
What about the incident which occured on Saturday, December 2nd, 2006, the day after the Fair Barn attack on Bailey, in which Bailey and several friends were encountered by a white student from their high school, who pulled a shotgun. In that incident, Bailey and his friends wrestled the gun away, and then THEY were charged with theft of a firearm, second degree robbery and distubing the peace, while the white student wasn't charged with anything -- nothing -- nada. Can Mr. Walters imagine going to a convenience store and having a gun pulled on him, wrestling that gun away and then being charged with stealing it? That's not disturbing the peace, it's just disturbing.
If Justin Barker was nearly killed, why was he never admitted to the hospital? Barker was treated and released after two hours in the emergency room. And while Barker testified at Bell's trial that his eye was swollen shut and he had pain and loss of vision, no medical evidence has ever been produced that verifies that he had anything other than the kinds of injuries you'd expect to see in a fight -- namely a swollen eye and injuries to his hands.
Why wasn't Coach Benjy Lewis, who was the only adult to witness the attack on Barker, called in Michael Bells' case? Lewis told police it wasn't Bell who initiated the attack -- and that Bell wasn't even on the scene. Instead, Lewis identified another student, Malcolm Shaw, as the initial attacker.
And last, but certainly not least, why did Walters feel it appropriate to go the Jena High School and announce to the African-American students who were still enraged about the noose incident and subsequent violence against them in Jena -- and before any charges had been filed -- that he could "end their lives with a stroke of a pen?" In hindsight, would he make that statement again?
Mr. Walters' op-ed was disengenuous and trite. He trivializes the attacks on Robert Bailey, and quite frankly, his failure to prosecute the people who attacked him will go down in history, along with his over-prosecution of the Jena 6, as a low point in American juris-prudence.
Update: Gov. Blanco has announced that Walters has agreed not to appeal the ruling overturning Mychal Bell's adult conviction. The case will now be tried in juvenile court.
Update 2: Mychal Bell is now free on bail. He was released today (Thursday afternoon). Here's video of him walking out of the courthouse into the arms of happy family members and supporters, along with Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III.
Watch video of Walters' press conference, in which he continues to stump for his case, here. And note the comment that "had it not been for law enforcement, and God, there would have been major trouble in Jena during last Thursday's march. And where would you get that idea from, Mr. Attorney General? Does that many Black people in one place scare you?
The following comment was posted in response to my post of yesterday:
Be assured -- I am neither underground nor in danger of arrest. One site is just changing servers, but we're still up in a dozen other places, like overthrow88.blogspot.com
This isn't the first time we've done this, and it won't be the laST.
We killed Lefkow, we kidnapped Wiesel, and we can take care of a few ghetto niggers as well. Bill White Homepage 09.23.07 - 4:54 pm #
I'll be forwarding the post to the FBI. If that really is Bill White, I'll wager he's pretty tough from the anonymity of his pajamas, but I'd like to see him come down here and run his mouth in Liberty City.
I by no means think that most White Americans are racists. In fact, I would guess that the majority of White folks are embarassed by the kind of throw-back, red-neck, bigotry that is on display in LaSalle Parish, Louisiana. I say this, despite the fact that I truly believe that most Whites, while not actively racist, harbor an inherent sense of privilege, which is inculcated in them almost from toddler-hood; a notion that they have ownership and dominion over this country, its resources and benefits, and that they have an inherent right to judge and exert authority over other nations (like Iraq for instance), other people, other ethnic groups, and other value systems. On that, I don't hate the players, but I definitely hate the game...
That said, there are some Whites who are so unreconstructed and backward on the issue of race, that I puzzle at how they manage to get up in the morning, knowing that they live in a world where every facet of life, every job category, every major sport (save hockey and NASCAR, and even that is changing...) every form of entertainment, and damned near every other aspect of life is infused with people of color. How do these throwbacks manage to turn on a TV set without recoiling in abject horror?
So now, we have a few troglodites who have come out of the woodwork, not to merely hang nooses, with the implied threat of lynching, but to actually call for the lynching of the Jena 6, and to go a step further: a neo-Nazi outfit has published the addresses of the Jena 6 families on its web-ste (the site has been down this morning, so I'm assuming the ISP took action, due to the criminal probe now under way...) The organization behind the posting is the National Socialist Movement -- a Hitlerian operation fronted by a guy, aptly called Bill White -- has gone underground since CNN broke the story of the postings, and White himself may face criminal charges, if the federal and state authorities can manage to get their acts together on such a clear hate crime. One hopes that the FBI's level of urgency on this matter will be an improvement upon the flat-footed, slack-jawed reactions to the original nooses hung under the "Jena tree" by the district attorney, Reed Walters, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana Donald "See no hate crime" Washington, and by the babbling, useless governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Babineau Blanco.
Rev. Al Sharpton and others have called for federal marshals to be sent to LaSalle Parish to protect the Jena 6 families. At the least, the state should provide for, and pay for, round the clock protection (Blanco has pledged to have state authorities "investigate" -- not good enough, dear, but then again, that phrase seems increasingly to apply to everything you do...) These families are living in a parish where the district attorney goes to high schools to threaten Black students, where he over-prosecutes them while letting whites who point shotguns at, break bottles over the heads of and hang nooses with the implied threat to lynch black teenagers go unpunished, and where a judge holds a 17-year-old boy in jail, even after the case against him has been thrown out of court. This is not an American city or county in 2007 -- it is a pre civil rights movement-era Dixie, where there apparently is no justice, and no protection, for Black citizens.
So will the federal government step in ? We shall see. Meanwhile, it seems that the Black community -- and people of good will in the White community -- can and should coalesce around a simple set of demands, and should begin considering a series of consequences if those demands are not met:
First, the judge in the case of Mychal Bell should recuse himself, or be removed from the case.
Second, the district attorney, Mr. Walters, should be investigated by the Louisiana Bar for his comments made in that high school gynmasium, that he can "end your lives with the stroke of a pen," before any charges were filed against the Jena 6, and for his refusal to prosecute the White student who pulled a shotgun on Jena 6 member Robert Bailey and two friends (instead, Bailey, who wrestled the gun away and took it home, was charged with theft of a firearm, second degree robbery and disturbing the peace,) not to mention failure to prosecute the students who hung those nooses, and the person who broke a bottle over Bailey's head at a party in December 2006.
Third, Governor Blanco should immediately convene her pardon board to request consideration of an order vacating the charges against all six Jena defendants.
Fourth, state police and/or federal marshalls should be sent to Jena to protect the Black families who have now been threatened by an organized, racist group, as well as by individual White citizens in Jena and in Alexandria, Louisiana.
Fifth, the remaining Jena 6 cases, if not vacated, should and must be moved out of LaSalle Parish.
If no action is taken along these lines, I would venture to say that it's time for Americans of good will -- of all races --to begin an economic and tourism boycott of the state of Louisiana, which has shown no interest in protecting its Black citizens -- either from natural disaster, in the case of Hurricane Katrina, or from racist attacks by organized groups and individuals harboring clear race-based malice.
In addition to that, if Kathleen Blanco runs for reelection as governor, she does not merit, and should not receive, a single Black vote, or for that matter, a single vote by anyone who cares about competent government that serves all citizens equally.
Can I get a witness?
By the way, major big-ups to the Afrosphere, which pushed and continues to push, this important story. Key links:
Why won't the State of Louisiana release Mychal Bell? His conviction on aggravated battery charges has been thrown out of court by an appeals court. The bulk of the sane world sees that the prosecutor, and clearly the judge, in this case, are determined to railroad young Mr. Bell and the other members of the group now known as the "Jena 6" into prison for a substantial portion of their lives. The reason why seems equally clear, given the retrograde racial canons of Jena, Louisiana. But will all of the protests, the abysmal publicity, and the incredible public pressure now on that backward state, and its even more backward system of "justice" -- and I put that term in quotes quite on purpose -- the judge and prosecutor seem to be working hand in hand to retain custody of Mychal Bell no matter what.
Meanwhile, purse, unadulterated ignorance is still in fashion in Jena (would that it would only be there...) A picture of the latest nooses to grace that backward town (which the AP managed to portray as Mayberry in its slanted report of today) is below:
Smart move, rednecks. I guess you haven't figured out that prosecutors -- even in LaSalle Parish, Louisiana, now HAVE TO charge you with a crime for doing some stupid stuff like that...
The Louisiana District Attorney who over-charged the Jena 6 should be disbarred, both because of the excessive charges, and because of his statement in the Jena high school gym, before any charges were filed in the case, that he could "end your lives with the stroke of a pen."
If Nifong had to go, this guy should, too.
And he's not done. Walters' new act is to pal around with Justin Barker, the kid who got beaten up in that now notorious fight, but who was partying by that night.
I did a quick check of some of the major left wing blogs to see if any of them are covering the Jena 6 case. Wanna guess whether or not they've got stories up? After checking several popular left-of-center sites: Daily Kos, ThinkProgress, Talking Points Memo, MyDD, Democratic Underground, RawStory and the Huffington Post, this post on the HuffPo was all I found.
Some 60,000 people are headed to the town of 3,000 to 4,000 people for a peaceful protest. Mychal Bell, the first of the Jena 6 to be tried, by an all-white jury, by the way, and with his court appointed attorney calling no witnesses, was to be sentenced this morning at 9:00. That won't happen now that his conviction has been vacated by an appellate court. But the underlying problem in Jena, Louisiana -- one of racial bigotry -- and the larger problem in the country -- racial bigotry combined with national indifference -- remains. The mainstream media is treating the Jena 6 story as an afterthought, much as they are doing with the unbelievable West Virginia torture case. Meanwhile, it's all about O.J., and the media is indulging in an orgy of revenge journalism. Sure, the MSM will cover the Jena story today, because of the massive protest. But where have they been for the past nearly a year, as this case has dragged on ...?
What is wrong with this picture?
If you're still not up on the Jena 6 story, this column by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! from back in July should help.
The aggravated battery charge against Jena 6 member Mychal Bell was vacated by a Louisiana appeals court on Friday:
Louisiana's 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, acting on an emergency defense appeal, reversed the aggravated second-degree battery conviction of Mychal Bell, 17, ruling that the youth had been tried improperly as an adult in a case that has raised allegations of unequal justice in the small, mostly white town.
Last week, the judge who presided over Bell's trial in June, LaSalle Parish District Judge J.P. Mauffray, vacated a conspiracy conviction against the youth for the same reason, but inexplicably let the more serious battery conviction stand. Now the local district attorney, Reed Walters, must decide whether to refile the entire case in juvenile court.
Walters, who himself should be under criminal investigation in this case, has indicated he will appeal the reversal to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Bell's trial was wrought with gems from a by-gone era:
Walters initially charged Bell and five other black teens, who have come to be called the "Jena 6," with attempted murder after the white student was beaten and knocked unconscious at Jena High School last December. The white student suffered cuts and bruises but was treated and released from a local hospital.
Walters later reduced the charges to aggravated second-degree battery, contending at Bell's trial -- the first case to go to court -- that the tennis shoes Bell was wearing constituted a dangerous weapon. ...
... the beating incident followed a series of white-on-black attacks in Jena in which the white assailants escaped serious charges. And it capped months of escalating racial tensions in the town set off after three white students hung nooses from a tree in the high school courtyard in what was perceived as a threat to blacks. School officials called the noose incident an "adolescent prank" and declined to expel the white students, outraging black students and their parents.
... Bell has remained in jail since December, unable to post a $90,000 bond. But his attorneys said they would go before Mauffray on Monday seeking to have Bell released. The judge declined previous defense requests to reduce Bell's bond, citing several juvenile assault convictions on the teen's record.
Bell's pro bono attorneys, brought into the case by civil rights leaders after his conviction, have argued that his trial, heard by an all-white jury, was filled with irregularities, including a court-appointed public defender who called no witnesses on his behalf and a prosecution witness who was one of the white youths who hung the nooses at the high school.
The march in Jena is still on, as of today, and buses are leaving from around the country, including here in South Florida. And did you catch the fact that Bell's bail is just $10,000 less than those sick, twisted animals in West Virginia, who are charged, not with getting into a fight, but with kidnapping, gang raping a torturing a woman? Nice touch...
Here's hoping the negative attention jolts the town of Jena into the 21st Century.
What's going on in America these days? First, we have the outrage of the Jena 6 case, which Rev. Sharpton has rightly said should be the subject of a federal, criminal investigation against the racist (my word, not Sharpton's) prosecutor... and now, here comes Maryland, where some idiot (or some idiots...) hung a noose from a tree near the Black student center at the University of Maryland.
I've been on that campus. It's a beautiful campus. But apparently, it, like so much of America, is infused with ugly elements.
Attention White People! This is a noose, this is what it means:
But frighteningly enough, some of you already know that.
And then there's this: a case that makes Dunbar Village look like a walk in the park:
A black West Virginia woman was sexually assaulted, stabbed, and tortured while being held captive by her white abductors, one of whom told her, "That's what we do to niggers around here." The 23-year-old victim was freed Saturday after cops responded to the home of Frankie Brewster for a "welfare check on a female that was reportedly being held against her will." When cops arrived, Brewster claimed she was the only one home, but then the victim limped to the door and said, "Help me." According to six harrowing criminal complaints, the woman, who apparently had been held for more than a week, had four stab wounds in her left leg, bruised eyes, and had been repeatedly sexually assaulted and humiliated. The woman told police that she was forced to lick Brewster's "toes, vagina, and anal cavity." Brewster's son Bobby forced the woman to eat dog and rat feces, according to one complaint filed in Logan County Magistrate Court. The victim, who is now hospitalized, was raped at knifepoint, choked with a cable cord, and had her hair pulled and cut during the ordeal.
Authorities are still looking for two people who drove the victim to the perps' home. This case is as sickening as it gets. If I believed in the death penalty, I'd want these devils to get the chair. Just look at them ... all Anglo Americans should get together and excommunicate them.
As John Aravosis points, out, a lot of White people are laboring under the delusion that racism is a relic of the past. It isn't. And it's up to White people to confront their own demons, and the demons among them.
By the way, a lot of people have been clamoring for Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineau Blanco to intervene in the case. Well here's what she's had to say on the case:
“I have received hundreds of calls, letters and emails from citizens concerned about the situation involving the case of the high school students in Jena, La. As Governor, as a citizen of the State of Louisiana, and as a mother, without rushing to judgment, I condemn racism in any form, and I fully expect that those involved in this case, including all parties, will act with fairness and in complete good faith. [Really??? Is that what you "fully expect," Kathleen...?]
“I must clear up a widespread misunderstanding of my authority in this case. Our State Constitution provides for three Branches of State Government - Legislative, Executive, and Judicial - and the Constitution prohibits anyone in one branch from exercising the powers of anyone in another branch. This issue is currently a matter in the Judicial System, and should those involved in this case suffer any defects, it is their right to address them in that system through the appeals court.
“Again, the oversight regarding how this case was handled, from arrest to prosecution, lies within the Justice System. Therefore, I have consulted Attorney General Charles Foti and Donald Washington, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, regarding these events in Jena. As a result, General Foti has been and is in consultation with U.S. Attorney Washington and other members of the Justice System. Regardless of the outcome of this case, the Jena community has much healing ahead of it, and I urge all those citizens to come together for the common good of their community and their state. Our children deserve nothing less.”
Well that's nice, Kathleen. In other words, you don't intend to do a damned thing about it, except for the hoping for healing thing.
To be fair, Blanco does not have the unilateral power to pardon anyone. She can, by law, only consider pardons brought to her by the Louisiana clemency board. That means its time to put pressure on that board, to take up the cases on Mychal Bell and the other four young men who are facing trial (Bell is facing sentencing next Thursday) as adults (the sixth member of the Jena Six was charged as a juvenile.)
Update on the powers of the Louisiana governor:
Pardon, Commutation, Reprieve, and Remission; Board of Pardons. (1) The governor may grant reprieves to persons convicted of offenses against the state and, upon favorable recommendation of the Board of Pardons, may commute sentences, pardon those convicted of offenses against the state, and remit fines and forfeitures imposed for such offenses. However, a first offender convicted of a non-violent crime, or convicted of aggravated battery, second degree battery, aggravated assault, mingling harmful substances, aggravated criminal damage to property, purse snatching, extortion, or illegal use of weapons or dangerous instrumentalities never previously convicted of a felony shall be pardoned automatically upon completion of his sentence, without a recommendation of the Board of Pardons and without action by the governor.
JENA, La. (AP) — Prosecutors on Tuesday reduced the attempted murder charges against two more teenagers among the "Jena Six," a group of black high school students who were arrested following an attack on a white schoolmate.
Five of the teens were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, carrying sentences of up to 80 years in prison. The sixth faces undisclosed juvenile charges.
Civil rights advocates have decried the charges as unfairly harsh.
On Tuesday, charges against Carwin Jones and Theo Shaw were reduced to aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy. That same reduction was made earlier for Mychal Bell, who was tried and found guilty and could be sentenced to 22 1/2 years at a hearing Sept. 20.
Also awaiting trial are Robert Bailey Jr. and Bryant Purvis, who still face attempted murder charges, and the unidentified juvenile.
The attack on Justin Barker, 18, came amid tense race relations in Jena, a mostly white town of 3,000 in north-central Louisiana where racial tensions have grown since incidents that started last school year at Jena High. After a black student sat under a tree on the school campus where white students traditionally congregated, three nooses were hung in the tree.
Students accused of placing the nooses were suspended from school for a short period.
The six black students were accused of beating and kicking Barker on Dec. 4. A motive for the attack was never established. Barker was treated at a hospital emergency room and released after about three hours.
Shaw's attorney, George Tucker, said Tuesday that he still doesn't believe his client will get a fair trial in Jena.
Shaw himself has dreams of attending Gramling State University. "Just drop all the charges and let us go on with our lives," the teenager told CNN Tuesday.
Problem is, these kids are still facing 22 years in prison for a schoolyard fight, after they were subjected to the most egregious racism imaginable in Jena. Outrageous in the 21st century.
A group of Black bloggers calls on the major media to give serious coverage to one of the most disturbing, race-related cases in my lifetime: the case of the Jena 6. According to the Afrosphere Jena 6 Coalition:
There is growing concern surrounding the Jena Six case in Jena Louisiana. Yet, inexplicably, the national media, most particularly on television, has been abysmally silent on an occurrence of grave social, political and legal importance.
The 'common folk' media of the blogosphere, has stepped up to the plate in the absence of adequate traditional media coverage. Bloggers have taken to hanging banners to blog side-bars and placing them in blog entries at an increasing rate; displaying the words 'Free the Jena 6' accompanied by the evocative symbolism of a noose hanging from a tree. On these blogs strategies that can assist in bringing awareness to these young targets of racist psychological abuse are finding willing participants in discussion, and action; but they need the media’s help.
This issue, like Katrina, highlights how some people receive deference in treatment over others. “The Jim Crow style racism and government negligence, reflected in the Jena 6 case, are both quite worrisome. Unfortunately, the case is another incident that points to the entrenched racial and socio-economic disparities in the South, which this country has yet to fully confront,” says political scientist Dr. Sekou Franklin of Middle Tennessee State University. As the Congressional Black Caucus has noted “…we must speak out against injustice and inequality. This tale of two standards depicts a pattern of gross violations.”
The Afrosphere Jena 6 Coalition “ask that the mainstream traditional media step forward and discharge their duty to provide coverage of this vitally important event to their viewers and readers and act as “the fourth institution" of governmental "checks and balance” that constitutional framers intended the press to be.”
I missed their blogaction yesterday, but want to express my full support for their efforts. This case sounds like it could have taken place in 1957, let alone 2007, and it speaks to the lingering stench of racism in American society.
When I ran across a tale on the Internet about six African-American teens from Jena, La., who are facing decades of prison time for allegedly beating up a white classmate, I couldn't believe their ordeal started with a tree. A tree holds powerful symbolism for black people. While traveling in the South, legendary singer Billie Holiday saw a tree that inspired her to write "Strange Fruit," a song which contains references to lynching.
Still, it is difficult to comprehend that in 2007, black students at any high school in America felt compelled to go to a school official and ask if it would be OK to sit in the shade of a tree usually enjoyed by white students.
There's no dispute that is what happened on Aug. 31, 2006 in Jena, a town with a population that is about 85 percent white and 12 percent black.
A vice principal apparently told the students they could sit "wherever they pleased." And the next day, Sept. 1, 2006, three nooses were found hanging from said tree.
Just three years ago the nation celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruling that declared racial separation was inherently unequal. Yet, Jena High School seems stuck in the pre-civil rights era.
Read the entire column. Well worth it. The piece ends with this couplet:
I asked the Rev. Jesse Jackson why he thinks the "Jena 6" case had not received a drum-beat of exposure from national media.
"We've adjusted to this kind of tyranny," Jackson said. "This is small-town tyranny."
And the sad thing is, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the white students aren't still sitting under the tree.
P.S.: There's a petition up, asking for the charges against these young men to be dropped.
I hadn't been following the Jena 6 case, but after reading this, I will be. The case involves six Black high school students on trial for their lives, charged with attempted murder for a fight that broke out after white students hung nooses from a tree at the 85% white high school where the students attended, this after the Black students decided to sit under the normally "white students only" tree. After the nooses were hung, a handful of white students were mildly disciplined. But the incident touched off several racial skirmishes in the town of Jena, including a Black student beaten up when he showed up to a white only party, and a white young man pulling a shotgun on some black students at a convenience store. The final incident, in which the six black students allegedly jumped a white teen alleged to have been friends with with the noose hangers, is what has resulted in the charges. Essentially, the six Black defendants are facing decades in prison for a schoolyard brawl.
The case is like a blast from the 1950s, and presents an ugly face of the South that persists to this day. Some of the charges have been reduced in the case, but it drags on still. The NAACP is also on the case.