Friday, September 21, 2007

the Jena 6

I told someone recently that I thought we had moved beyond the point where race was a deciding factor. The context was the presidential election and Barak Obama's chances. In view of the activities in Jena, Lousiana this week, I am now less sure aobut my statements.

The facts are few in the case. A black student at a high school asked if it was okay for him to sit under the white's tree in the schoolyard. An administrator said he could sit wherever he wants. In response, some kids put three nooses hanging up from that tree, to show what they thought about the idea. Adminstrators called it a harmless prank. Racial tensions ran high. A few black students beat up a white student. The injured student was treated in a hospital and released. Six of the black students were arrested, and initally charged with attempted murder. The charge was reduced to aggravated assault.

One student has now been in jail for over 6 months. He was charged as an adult, and couldn't post bond.

The six kids should be disciplined for the fight, beyond question. I think that's fair. And maybe juvenile court is the appropriate venue for adjudicating this. However a lot of things were not done or done poorly in this whole incident. Nooses from a tree in the deep South can never be seen as a harmless prank. The memories run too deep, the scars are too recent, to see this as anything but a racist threat. However, the threat came from kids, stupid kids, but kids. And the reaction came from kids, maybe frightened, but definitely angry, kids. So what we really have is a fistfight between kids erupting out of a highly charged atmosphere.

And then we have a prosecutor who has taken this to a whole other level. No weapons were used in this fight, the kids were all under eighteen, and all in an emotionally charged situation. To bring adult charges, and serious ones at that, into this is wrong. And I can't see a reason for it except racism.

On the news last night, I saw a Jena resident being interviewed. He said there was no reason for all these people (protestors) to come to his town. He said they weren't racists, didn't have a race problem. And maybe he doesn't. But why does the town have a "white's tree"? and why did three kids come up with the idea of hanging nooses? There is more trouble there than they want to look at in the daylight, I think.

So free the Jena 6. And bring in some counselors to talk to all these kids before it gets worse. Remind them that teenagers are supposed to hate adults, not each other.

No comments: