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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Catchin' Up w/the Jena 6

I'd love to just break the tension by quoting Rodney King: "Can't we all just get along," but this situation bothers me on a million levels.

I have two reactions to it - practical/logical, and emotional.

The practical/logical side of me says this case was bungled from the very beginning. If you're not sure how, consider this:
  • If you're familiar with the story, then you know that simmering racial tensions in that town intensified between young people, after three white students at Jena High School were found to have hung nooses from a campus shade tree, the day after a group of black students violated an unwritten campus "rule" that designated the tree a white hangout spot. So the district attorney in that neck of the woods was tasked with deciding whether or not the draping of the nooses constituted a crime. He decided the action was an ill-planned prank and declined to prosecute. The principal issued a stiff suspension to the guilty parties, but the school board overrode the suspension and issued a lesser one. the DA is legal advisor to the school board. He should have recused himself from the start to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest.

  • Second, the DA reportedly declined to investigate reports of numerous fistfights between groups of white and black students and the alleged brandishing of a rifle or shotgun by a white student at black students. If those reports are true, then shame on the DA, because this whole mess could have been handled and done with six months ago.

  • Third, if the young black men charged with beating that young white man unconscious are guilty of the charges, they should be punished. They should do time. That beating, as its been described in news reports, meets the legal standard for assault. Or, depending on the motives and circumstances, it's battery. The attempted murder charges they originally faced though? Not so sure about that. Intent to kill is extremely difficult to prove.

OK, so that's the practical/logical side.

My emotional side wishes we could sweep this thing under a rug, 'cause disputes rooted in different skin colors never end well.

My emotional side cringes a little, 'cause I hate to see young men who remind me of myself 15 or 20 years ago get in big trouble. But I know that being flustered and feeling intimidated can't be a real defense for violent behavior, unless you can say you feel your life is in danger, you have no escape, and your only recourse is to get the person who's threatening you first. 'Cause if we could just beat every person who looked at us cock-eyed and muttered threats, I swear I'd have stomped new orifices into half the drunks and wannabe bad asses in my neighborhood.

My emotional side is angry, 'cause I feel like the DA - if the news reports are true - made no effort prior to the beating that caused the uproar to investigate alleged intimidation tactics like the noose drapings and the alleged gun-brandishing. He could have prevented this uproar.

My emotional side is angry, because I believe that protesters and marchers in Jena who wore t-shirts with the slogan "Free the Jena 6!" sent the wrong message. If those young men are guilty as charged, they shouldn't be freed! They should be locked up. They just shouldn't be locked up for decades, unless the DA has absolute proof that they intended to kill the young man they jumped.

My emotional side is angry that these young men gave into emotion and ignored common sense. If news reports are accurate then the young man they beat was in no way connected to the nooses in the tree or the other racial intimidation. They dove head first into trouble that could ruin the rest of their lives because they were angry over racial slights - some real no doubt, and some perceived no doubt. But none worth losing your cool and going to jail over.

But my emotional side is also angry, because I feel that reasonable people who are calling for stiff but fair punishments for the accused assailants are being drowned out by extremists on both sides who want to use this case to create greater divisions between races.

And then I realize that all jokes aside, I really do wish I could just quote Rodney King and make all of this go away.

UPDATE: Least there is any confusion, when I say this whole thing could have been avoided, I mean if the noose hangers had been appropriately dealt with in the beginning - charged with a crime under federal hate crime statutes. Look at it this way, if those little weasles had hung nooses in a black family's front yard or say lit a cross on fire in their front yard, they would have been arrested and charged with hate crimes promptly. But because they hung nooses from a tree in a school yard, all that warranted was a short suspension? Wrong. But still, unless the guy who was beaten here had something to do with the nooses or the other reported acts of racial intimidation toward black youth in this town, then the accused should not have even thought about jumping on this kid, much less gone through with it.



  • I find it hard to believe that there really was an intent to kill. I mean, it was six against one. If they intended to kill the kid he'd be dead.

    I'm mostly concerned with the fact that after the nooses were hung and the racial tension was ratcheted up in school nobody really did anything to stop it all. I mean sure, the DA reportedly got all the black kids together and warned them he'd put them all in jail if they caused trouble, but where was the warning to the white kids?

    Also, last night they were reporting that the mayor of Jena addressed a white supremacist group and thanked them for coming to town. If that story is true then that would be very disturbing.

    By Blogger Jay, at 2:46 PM  

  • Thanks for the cool head, James. You articulated things that have been bothering me about this from the beginning of this case. I wish there was a way to have a national conversation about important issues and events in this country without it degenerating into a shouting match. I guess the only way to do that is for everyone to keep talking.

    By Blogger WNG, at 3:15 PM  

  • I knew you'd write about this.... Sorry, I just had to give some black guy hell about this.

    I agree with you that people should face time in prison for battery and that nothing excuses that. You know, it just bothers me that when I view photographs of hangings I always tend to identify with the hanged man but so many self-righteous people here seem to identify with the hangmen.

    And that's wrong!

    Peace out.

    By Blogger M@, at 3:20 PM  

  • I can't help but believe that all the facts have not been reported because the "authorities" in Jena are utterly biased.

    If the kids who hung the nooses had been censured and told that such hateful behavior would not be tolerated, the whole situation could probably have been averted.

    Unfortunately, the black kids felt unheard and took matters into their own hands. Things should not have gone that far, but when there is so much unfair repression, there will also be extreme frustration.

    Kids of all colors tend to be hotheads, but it seems terribly wrong for the Jena six to serve long prison terms for what was basically a schoolyard row.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 3:32 PM  

  • I agree that this thing needed to be nipped in the bud some time ago. But now that it's happened, I marvel at what it's turning into.

    Okay, here's my problem. When the victim of the beating has nothing to do with the nooses, and nothing to do with what these young men had to endure, then he is simply a victim.

    If they beat the living crap out of him because he was white, and not because they were retaliating against any action that he took against them, then they were acting, purely and simply, in a racist fashion. The same as if 6 young white men had beaten the crap out of a young black man that they didn't know, and had no beef with.

    I wish that race had nothing to do with this, and people could recognize that 6 guys laying a beating on one guy is a cowardly act that is always wrong, and needs to be punished.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:53 PM  

  • You have a good objective perspective on this must have gone through some times of wisdom trouble and regret.

    It's obvious that this town is run and managed by bigoted dickholes. It seems like the white kids there feel entitled and encouraged by the authority figures (parents, leaders, etc.) to act this way and by example are taught that it is expected. It's shameful on so many levels.

    The hanging of nooses should have been taken just as seriously as burning crosses would have, if not more serious because they represent murder. If someone had hung a noose in my childrens' name I would have come unglued.

    In an emotional response I find myself sympathizing with the black kids for beating that white trash punk into oblivion. Still, there's no way they should be pinned with attempted murder but they should still be held responsible for their crimes, just as the ones who hung the nooses should.

    I wish someone on a higher level with some sense and a little bit of human decency would come down on the basackwardness of these jackasses and set them straight.

    By Anonymous calmerthanyouare, at 3:55 PM  

  • There was no intent to kill. There was an intent to let live and to deliver a message.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 5:19 PM  

  • Thanks James, for a very insightful post on this recent and very troubling event. I too posted about this last week - last Wednesday I believe it was - my post is titled "The White Tree" mainly because I believe it was really the tree itself, the segregation factor there that began this whole mess. It was my interpretation of the events that the boy who was beaten had been taunting, tossing out racial comments and such but that may have been a misinterpretation too on my part.
    Although to so many it does seem that quoting Rodney King's statement is way too trite, it still sounds to me like a darned good place to start, don't 'cha think. Stop by and read my post if you have time.
    Join our "Warm the Globe" effort too if you've a mind. Details for that also on my blog for early last week. And finally - simply "Peace."

    By Blogger Jeni, at 10:02 PM  

  • As stated previously, it could have been avoided. The kids doing the hate crime, antagonizing what they knew was hateful, should have been stopped before it got to that point. Its very frustrating to think that no matter how far we get as a nation, a people, there are always bottom feeders who bubble up and show how much more work we have to do.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:20 AM  

  • Thank you for a wise, open-minded overview of this case. I have to agree many of the others, sounds like things were overlooked in the beginning that an early no toleration policy might have fixed. I don't think I could live in the South.

    By Anonymous Franki, at 8:25 AM  

  • I've heard that DA say over and over that he didn't charge the noose-hangers because he didn't find a crime to charge them with.

    Hello??? Do we not have civil rights laws? Hate crime laws?

    I live in the south. I hate that this kind of behavior makes us all look like ignorant, racist assholes.

    I hate even more that there are still places in the south where this kind of attitude is hidden in plain sight and tolerated.

    By Blogger SWF42, at 9:14 AM  

  • I'll stick with your even handed wisdom here. It's easy to think that everything should be treated as if race wasn't involved, except where it so obviously is involved. We will just have to live together long enough to finally realize how stupid racism really is. Maybe we'll learn to loath mermaids instead. Seems humans still need a scapegoat.

    By Blogger The CEO, at 8:03 PM  

  • My logical side is angry by all the extremists and efforts to simplify the situation by ignoring the laundry list of wrongdoing on both sides.

    My emotional side wants to curl up in a ball and pretend that none of this is happening because solving these issues is going to require more than some overly simplistic method toward making us "color blind". And that takes soul searching and honest self-evaluation on the part of everyone involved, and that's really hard to do.

    By Blogger qofd, at 8:46 PM  

  • The facts are as follows:

    Some African American kids asked the school if they could sit under an oak tree where white kids normally sit. They did so.
    The next day, 3 nooses were found hung on that same oak tree.

    Next, the academic section of the high school was burned down. That crime is still under investigation- no arrests at all.

    Next, 6 African Americans beat, kicked, stomped and knock unconscious a white male student. Parents of the African American students say that the white student provoked his attackers by using racial epithets. The white students parents say their son did nothing to provoke the attack.
    The white student goes to the hospital, he is released "the same day" (you can see a picture of his face on if you look.)

    The 6 African Americans were initially charged as adults with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

    The first conviction is of Mychal Bell- he was convicted of AGGRAVATED BATTERY- NOT MURDER!!! His bail was set at 90K- judges can set bail higher for some criminals than others due to a person's criminal record. In this instance, Bell had a record- some of which included battery.

    He should have been tried in juvenile court because he was 16 at the time of the incident- and in LA you have to be 17 to be tried in adult court.

    Bell has been in jail since December, 2006, unable to post his bail. The others were able to post bail.

    This past week, a 3 judge panel decided it was premature to release Bell from jail and a defense attorney says they have to wait to see if the DA will re-file charges in juvenile court.

    A US attorney claims that there is no connection between the noose incident and this beating. The DA agrees.

    On 9/20/07 15-20K people march in Jena, LA- protesting in what they call unjust treatment of the African American teenagers.

    A judge denies Bell's request for release while his appeal his pending.

    so- there you have it- that's my version of the story- (a synopsis of what CNN reports) and I'm sticking to it!

    Now- the issues- first, it's troublesome to think that if the races were reversed- a white student in Bell's position with his record wouldn't be treated the same. That's the issue- not being tried for attempted murder- but the sentencing and bail difference between a white student and a black student. That is our issue in America- an issue of injustice that will not be fixed because 15-20K people marched. The only way it will be fixed is when prejudice is omitted from the human race- that's not going to happen- so, unfortunately, it is something we have to live with. Like being diagnosed with cancer.

    Perhaps those 15-20k who marched should go to Africa and march because in Africa often times children under 15 are tried in adult courts and they are held in ADULT prisons.

    I'm glad I'm in America and I'm glad I have the freedom to teach my child about prejudice and perhaps he'll teach his- and so on- maybe that's the only way we'll rid our American society of prejucice. I don't have the answer, but I can start by trying with my own white, blonde, blue-eyed boy.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:29 AM  

  • How do you measure Hate?
    Cups? Yards? Inches? Liters? Pounds?
    And who can measure hate?
    Hate crime as opposed to.. what ...a ..Love Crime?
    The concept eludes me.

    What a difference the outcome would be had some young person with compassion and inspiration, walked to that tree and removed the taunt - and said -- "This was wrong. Who will agree with me?"

    And, for those at which the offense was directed... had they given no credence to the ignorance and immaturity. A slur only becomes you if received and accepted.

    I am always naive in my hopes and dreams.

    By Blogger Pamela, at 1:52 AM  

  • I'm 40 years old, I grew up going to completely integrated schools in the deep south. Therefore, I am familiar with situations of racial tensions that are very common in the public schools of the south.

    First, I believe the consideration of one's race has no place at all in seeking justice, with the exception of hate crimes specifically perpetrated because of race.

    In this situation, if race is not considered, then you have one person who was attacked from behind by a group of 6 people. This means without a doubt that the attackers had premeditated their attack which is demonstrated by their surprise attack with greatly overwhelming numbers. It is my understanding that the victim was quickly rendered unconscious and the attack continued whereby the attackers kicked the unconscious victim repeatedly.

    There is no question this was a very malicious premeditated attack with intent and capability to do great bodily harm, to include death. I personally know of a person who was knocked unconscious and then kicked until he died, so "a shoe" is a deadly weapon when used in this circumstance.

    So, with race out of the picture there is an attempted murder to seek justice for.

    Has there been justice for this attempted murder?

    Oh, but you say race must be considered. Ok, then this was clearly a hate crime where these 6 blacks attacked and tried to kill this one white, so the much heavier penalties associated with hate crimes must be levied.

    To suggest the incident with fake nuces being hung out of a tree somehow justify this attack is the very same thing as saying that because Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. exercised his right to free speech it was justifiable to murder him! That’s crazy right? Well that’s this case in reverse.

    We all know how it works, there will be no justice here or anywhere Al or Jessie chose to spin the truth. They have done more in their life time to increase racial hatred than any other people I can think of. You can not seek equality and justice by perpetrating the exact opposite.

    Ever since those race riots in California after that drug-head had his run-in with the police, things have been skewed dangerously allowing inequality and injustice to go unchallenged. OJ's free, Mayer of DC was a drug-head, the Duke Lacrosse team was wrongly prosecuted, and now this victim is laid on the alter of vanity that stands at the feet of these so called "civil rights leaders" who only seek the spotlight for their own glory. My question is this: How is it that so many black people care so little for truth? With the turnout at the Jena march it suggests there is a huge disparity in understanding that exists between the black population and the rest of America.

    America needs to wake up and say enough, the 60's are over, let's get on with life, racial favor for any reason is over. A person stands on their own merit, and answers for their own actions.

    By Anonymous Average American, at 12:09 PM  

  • James, it's even more horrendous than this. I'm working on a post now. The degree to which the "wrong" was compounded in Jena is more than I can properly articulate, but I'm trying.

    By Blogger Yvette, at 9:41 PM  

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