Mid-Life Ramblings; Sanity Optional

Thursday, September 20, 2007

In Support of the Jena 6

Racism is alive and well here in this country, folks. And anyone who doesn't believe that is a gigantic fool.

Take Jena, Louisiana, for example. A town of nearly 3000 people that is 85% white and 12% African American.

A year ago, a new black student at Jena High School had the audacity to ask the school principal if he could sit under the oak tree to eat his lunch. The principal told him he could eat anywhere he wanted to. However, the white students there were under the impression that the tree was their sacred lunch ground. The reaction to this new student joining them for lunch was to hang three nooses from the tree the next morning. The three white student were originally expelled from school but the school board reversed the Principal's decision and only gave them each a three-day in-school suspension. It was the position of the school board that this was "just an innocent teenage prank".

Later on a black student was invited to a party attended by mostly white students. While at the party, the young man was beaten up by a 22 year-old wielding a beer bottle. The 22 year-old was charged with a misdemeanor and received probation.

Shortly after the beating at the party, the victim and a friend went to a local convenience store where two white students began to tease the young man about having been beaten. A scuffle broke out and one of the white students pulled a shotgun on the black student. He was able to wrestle the shotgun away and left with it. Rather than charging the white student with aggravated assault, the black student was arrested and charged with theft of the shotgun.

Somewhere in between all of this, there was a fire at the high school. No one knows who the offenders are.

The final event in all of this was a fight that broke out at the school between white and black students. During the fight, a white student was beaten and lost consciousness and was kicked repeatedly by black students. Six students, now known as the Jena 6 were arrested and charged with attempted second degree murder. It needs to be noted that the "lethal weapons" used by the black students were their shoes. It also needs to be noted that the white student was treated in the E/R and released that same afternoon. He was well enough to attend the ring ceremony at the high school that very evening.

The district attorney Reed Walters showed up at the school during all of this and had a meeting with the black students. At one point he took his pen out of his pocket, looked at them, and said, "I can end your life with one stroke of my pen." Walters has, however, continued to deny that these charges were racially motivated. In a press conference yesterday, he swore he tried to find something to charge the noose hangers with but just couldn't find anything. Hmmmmmmmm...as a former Louisiana law enforcement officer, might I suggest terrorizing? Ol' Reed Walters really wouldn't have had to dig that deep for that one. It's a felony, too.

Mychael Bell, the first of the Jena 6 to stand trial, was convicted of aggravated 2nd degree battery (a felony) in July. Today was supposed to have been his sentencing date. Thankfully, an appeals court overturned the verdict last week, citing that Bell should not have been tried as an adult. Of course, the D.A. is going to try him again.

Tens of thousands of folk descended on Jena today to protest this case. Among those in attendance was a large delegation from the church E and I attend, the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge. I was not able to get off of work to attend but was proud that those who were able to were representing me as well. They are calling today's protest "the largest since the Civil Rights movement".

There was also a rally on the steps of the state capitol here in Baton Rouge this afternoon. Thanks to the horrible traffic in this town, I got there at the very tail end. There were only about 20 people left when I arrived. I did manage to take a couple of pictures, though.

You know, although I am often so very proud of my home state, things like this just make me hang my head in shame.

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