The Jena 6 and Racism that Won't Quit

Living in Brooklyn the most I am exposed to "racism" or any behavior based on race has to do with the fear people have of living in or walking through "bad" neighborhoods, those usually inhabited by blacks or Latinos. Daily contact and conversation with people of many races and ethnic backgrounds and the generally liberal stance of most New Yorkers makes the idea of overt racism seem like something from the relatively distant past.

Unfortunately two recent stories have demonstrated racism is still alive and kicking. The first, which is ending up much better than it at first seemed it would, is that of Genarlow Wilson (a good summary of his case can be found here on Wikipedia.) The second, and in my view the more telling and vile case, is that of what has been dubbed as the Jena 6. Jena is a small town in the heart of Louisiana. The case revolves around a series of encounters between high school blacks and whites from a Jena high school. By most accounts the story starts with a request by a black student of a school administrator for permission, for himself and two friends, to sit, during lunch, under a shade tree. The tree was apparently a lunch spot for many of the schools white students. The administrator told the black student that he was welcome to sit under the tree. The next day the same tree had three nooses hanging from its branches.

The school punished the students who hung the nooses by suspending them and wrote of the incident as nothing more than a prank. A couple of encounters among some of the involved students occurred after the fact. One such encounter involved a white student pulling a gun on a group of blacks and the other a black student getting jumped at a party.

Subsequently, a fight occurred in which a group of black students beat up a white student. The white student was hospitalized but was released the same day and was seen at a party that very evening.

Up to this point much of the racial tension could be written off as a "boys will be boys" problem. Many schools experience tension between blacks and whites that bubble into physical confrontation. The middle school and high school I attended had both. In Jena, however, the black students involved were arrested and charged with attempted murder. One of the boys was recently found guilty and now faces 20 years in prison.

The intimate details of the trial and the all white composition of the jury, the hypocritical actions of the DA and the different reactions of the town's white and black residents paint the picture of a town that seems to be existing in the 1960's. A great interview with many of the parents of the Jena 6 was conducted last week by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now. The transcript of the interview which contains a detailed account of the time-line of the incidents leading up to the present can be found here.

The remaining members of the Jena 6 will be coming up for trial in the next few months. There is a lot of local support for the 6 in Jena and Louisiana, hopefully more attention and pressure can be brought nationally. A legal fund has been established.

Jena 6 Defense Committee
PO Box 2798
Jena, LA 71342.

Some more info and opinion can be found here.

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