Saturday, September 01, 2007

Justice for the Jenna 6

This is an important case and a sad commentary on race relations in America. Here is the link to the Justice in Jenna site so that you can keep up with events and get involved. For those who may not have heard about the case NPR has a good run down of the facts but I'll try and present them here.

In the small central Louisiana town of Jenna there was a large shade tree outside of the high school. White students would sit underneath it while Black students stayed close to the cafeteria. At an assembly a Black student asked if he could sit under the shade tree and was told he could sit wherever he liked. Three White students who were part of the rodeo team tied nooses under the tree. The school gave the boys in school suspension, but the Black students though that the punishment was too lenient.

The Black students lead by star players on the football team organized a sit in under the shade tree. The authorities were called and the district attorney told the children, "with one stroke of my pen, I can make your life disappear."

There were fights though out the year which escalated into the school being burned down but who was responsible was not determined. Robert Bailey (16) tried to enter a party accompanied by other Black students that was attended by Whites. He was beaten up by some of the White boys and no charges were filed against them. During the fracas he was hit over the head with a beer bottle by Justin Sloan, who months later was charged with simple assault and given probation.

At a convenience store the next day Bailey argued with one of the White boys from the party who ran to his truck and retrieved his pistol grip shotgun. Bailey ran at the the armed teenager and wrestled for the gun. Eventually getting the gun away from the boy and heading home with friends. Bailey and his friends were charged with theft of a firearm, robbery, and disturbing the peace. The white boy who pulled the gun wasn't charged with anything.

Justin Barker (17) was bragging to friends that Bailey had been whipped by a White man. He was attacked by Black students when he went into the courtyard. The first punch knocked him out and some of the boys kicked him in the head. The wounds were slight enough that he was treated, released and out that very night at a social function.

Six Black students were charged with assault but the D. A., Reed Walters, bumped the charges to second degree attempted murder. The first trial is over with the defense resting its case immediately after two days of the prosecution presenting the charges. Mychal Bell was found guilty by the all white jury and faces a possible 22 years in prison.

Fo anyone who has a hard time understanding let's make it simpler. A black kid asks for permission to sit under a tree on the campus of the public high school that he attends and nooses are hung from it. The kids who did it get a slap on the wrist. Some of the Black students decide to protest by sitting under the tree and they are threatened by the district attorney. One of the Black students and his friends try to get into a party and he is beaten up. He argues with one of the kids from the party the next day and he has a shotgun pulled on him. He wrestles the gun away and is then charged with theft and related charges for getting the gun away from the guy (the gun turned out to be unloaded but there was no way for them to know that while the gun was pointed at them). A white kid boasts about the "gun thief" getting charged and is then beaten up, which wasn't right but charging the kids with attempted murder is idiotic and spiteful. At most they should have been charged with a mutual fight or assault, give them a fine or probation. The boy didn't have any life threatening injuries and was able to amble on down to a ring ceremony after being so "viciously" attacked.

I could do the whole metaphorical thing with the tree of intolerance and the shaded truth. But a case like this is just depressing and a stark reminder of how short a distance we've come as a nation in 40 years. I guess the defendants should take consolation that 40 years ago they would have been swinging beneath that shade tree instead of being lynched by the legal system and the tree turned into kindling.

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