Wednesday, September 05, 2007

New Century, Same Old Bull***t

The more things chamge, the old saying goes, the more things remain the same.

It seems like every year, especially in ones when Republicans are in power, we African-Americans get a wake up call as to just how entrenched racism is in American society, how far we STILL have to go to overcome it, and just how racist and jacked-up our legal system is, especially in the Deep South.

I've been keeping tabs on an unfolding story in Jena, Louisiana. It's a town of 2,971 residents northeast of Alexandria in the central part of the state. It's the parish seat of LaSalle Parish (parishes are what counties are called in Louisiana)and Jena's population breakdown is 85% white, 12% Black

Believe it or not, this travesty of justice started because of a shade tree. In the summer of 2006 an African-American student named Kenneth Purvis asked school administrators for permission to sit under the 'white tree' in the front of the Jena High School campus. It had been 'tradition' and the unspoken rule that this particular shade tree was reserved for only white students to sit under during breaks and at lunch. The school's vice principal told Purvis there was nothing stopping them from doing it, so the next day several Black students sat under the tree.

The day after the Black kids sat under the 'white tree',three ropes in school colors were hanging from the tree tied with hangman's nooses. The three white students responsible for the stunt were facing expulsion, but the school board overruled the principal. Most whites in Jena dismissed it as a 'youthful prank'.

That 'youthful prank' as they put it has long, bitter memories for African-Americans. It triggered a series of events that escalated racial tensions in the town to the boiling point.

Incensed about the three day in-school suspension given to the noose hangers, several African-American students, including a few star players on the Jena High football team staged a sit-in under the 'white tree'.

The principal reacted to the sit-in by bringing in 28th Judicial District DA Reed Walters and ten police officers to a school assembly which was a throwback to the bad old Jim Crow days-blacks on one side of the auditorium, whites on the other. Walters is described as turning to the Black students during this assembly and reportedly telling them to "keep their mouths shut about the boys hanging their nooses up. If he hears anything else about it, he can make their lives go away with the stroke of his pen."

Police officers patrolled the Jena High School campus for a week and kept the simmering racial tensions at bay for a while. But on November 30 the school's main building was burned to the ground in an arson fire.

That fire blew the lid off the racial tensions seething below the surface.

On December 1 African-American football player Robert Bailey was invited to a dance at a hall considered to be 'white'. When he arrived he was sucker punched in the face, knocked to the ground and attacked by several white youth. Only one of Bailey's attackers was arrested. That person was given probation and asked to apologize to Bailey.

The next day a 22 year old white man and two of his friends pulled a loaded shotgun on Bailey and his two friends while they were at a local gas station. The black youths wrestled the gun away from the white male to prevent him from using it and took off.

Incredibly, Bailey was arrested and charged with theft of a firearm and disturbing the peace. The whites who instigated the event were not prosecuted.

Then on December 4 the fateful fight jumped off. When white student Justin Barker began taunting Robert Bailey about getting beat up that weekend, it jumped off a fight that sent Barker to the hospital. Barker was later seen socalizing a few hours later. Barker was later arrested for carrying a gun to school.

Robert Bailey, Theo Shaw, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, Mychal Bell, and a still unidentified minor were arrested, charged with attempted second degree manslaughter (a felony) and conspiracy to commit murder. Those charges carry a potential sentence of up to 80 years in prison. The sixth faces undisclosed juvenile charges.

They were also expelled from school. The Jena 6 as they have come to be called, have been in jail for months awaiting trial because of the outrageously high bails that were set that ranged from $70,000-$138,000.

$70,000-$138,000 bail for a schoolyard fight.

Mychal Bell, the first of the Jena 6 to go to trial, was convicted by an all-white jury in a court run by a white judge on the testimony of 16 white people. His public defender called no witnesses to testify on his behalf. He's set to be sentenced on September 20 and is facing 22 years in prison.

“There’s been obvious racial discrimination in this case,” said Joe Cook, executive director of the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“It appears that the black students were singled out and targeted in this case for some unusually harsh treatment.”

The case is getting international attention and is just now being picked up by the US media, although Jet and Ebony magazines (as usual) were ahead of the US media curve.

I wonder if they're going to come down on DA Reed Walters and disbar him for abuse of power like they did to the North Carolina DA in the Duke Lacrosse case. Unlike the Duke kids, these kids lives and reputations are being ruined because they dared to stand up and defend themselves against bigotry and racist attacks.

It's interesting to note that the conservatives who were loudly defending the Duke players and railing about the miscarriage of justice in that case have been silent on this one. Where are the money-grubbing ministers of the Lo Impact Misleadership Coalition? Can't stop hatin' on gay peeps long enough to join Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse and the rest of Black America in fighting for the freedom of the Jena 6?

Last month Rev. Al Sharpton told a press conference in the town that the case of the Jena 6 “speaks to a South we thought we left in the last century”.

All this drama because some white folks in Jena are pissed because some 'uppity nigras' dared to sit under a damned tree.


Jackie said...

I have been following this closely too. I hope there is enough hoopla made to shine a bright light on this outrage.
You point up interesting comparisons with the Duke situation.

I can't imagine the misery and fear the these young men and their parents are going through.

Unknown said...

Why is it that a boy gets ganged up on, by five others, and beaten half to death, that you can call the assailants the victims? You must be getting dizzy with all of that spinning!

Shame on you. This kind of racism will backfire on you. Be careful which seeds you sow, for you shall reap that which you sow.

We are quietly getting tired of all of this. All I see everywhere I look is open and undisguised displays of black racism.

Black radio, Black T.V., Black Bussiness, Black Music etc,. Are you all so racist that you can't listen to or be a part of anything unless it matches your skin color?

You all have become so racist that you don't even realize it anymore! It has become the norm!

What would you say if it were publicly displayed, White radio, White T.V., White Business, White Music. You keep up all of this Black radio, Black T.V., Black Business, Black Music etc,. and you will see it. You think you have a problem now? You'll soon get as good as you give.

Turnabout is fair play. Once you start it, it won't end this time, like it did before. Your naked bias and blatant racism is turning many people against you, who once were on your side. I am one. I am only one of many. Once the wave starts, there will be no stopping it. You fools. You should fall on your knees and beg forgiveness from the Almighty God.

Monica Roberts said...

Now that I've finished doubling over in laughter from Jesse CooperSmith's response (which as usual when I get comments like these has no profile attached to it) let me school you on something.

If you read the post (which obviously you didn't) the entire series of events in Jena, LA started because three WHITE students hung nooses from a so called WHITES-ONLY tree after BLACK kids satt under it.

A WHITE DA tells BLACK kids in a school assembly that he can make their lives go away at the 'stroke of a pen', calls tennis shoes a murder weaponm, prosecutes six BLACK kids for a school yard fight and you have the nerve to call me racist?

You must live in Bush Bizarro World

Black people can't be racist.

Black folks can be PREJUDICED. RACISM is PREJUDICE plus the power to project those prejudices in such a way that it negatively impacts a person's life.

And what WE are you talking about? You and your buddies in your local Klan chapter?

Me and other African-Americans are sick of having to deal with this BS that we've had to endure in this country for 400 years.