Scott Cavanagh
Freelance Writing, Editing and Photography

 Comment            Archive            Bark Back News

Jena protestors' objectives baffling

Saturday, September 22, 2007

In an appearance earlier this month on HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher, musician and actor Mos Def spent a considerable amount of time lamenting the plight of the "Jena Six" -- a group of African-American students imprisoned on charges involving the assault of a white classmate in the small Louisiana town of Jena.

During a lively discussion with the quick-witted
Maher and the brilliant Professor Cornel West, Def provided a Cliff's Notes version of the events that have since led to the front-page national news event we're now experiencing. His story in short: some white kids started a ruckus involving the placing of nooses on a tree; a fight ensued and one of the white kids was knocked unconscious; major charges, including "attempted murder" were filed against the black kids only -- while the white kids skated.

Hearing the story angered me immediately. Not only was the apparent miscarriage of justice against the black kids involved ridiculous, but the lack of national media attention to such Jim Crow Era shenanigans in 21st century America seemed shameful.

The trouble in Jena has since become an overnight phenomenon, culminating with yesterday's pilgrimage of over 15,000 protesters and activists to the tiny southern town of 3,000. Major media outlets are suddenly all a flutter over Jena and the brewing "civil rights battle."
Air America Radio's news affiliate gave updates all day long, beginning and ending each short piece with some vague remark about the "imbalance of justice" involved in the sentences and such, but never uttering a word about the facts of the actual case in question.

Those facts would have been interesting to hear, because upon digesting them, many in the listening audience might very well have been left pondering the same question I've been asking myself all day long -- what are the people in Jena really protesting?

While Mos Def was quite compelling on Real Time, and his rightful indignation over the state of racial inequality in this country is no doubt sincere, a simple review of news reports from the days directly following the events in Louisiana paints a very different picture from the one currently described by him, the protesters and the media.

The controversy in Jena began when a group of black students decided to sit underneath a tree on the school's campus -- a spot usually reserved for whites only (ah, the special charm of the South). This obviously angered the redneck element of the population and soon after, three nooses appeared hanging from the tree.

An investigation into the shameful incident uncovered the perpetrators -- all students -- and they were suspended from school. There was some talk of hate crimes charges against those involved, but the boys met none of the three main criteria for those charges. They later returned to school.

Months later, white student Justin Barker was attacked and beaten unconscious by six black students. The six were soon arrested and charged with a variety of crimes ranging from simple battery to attempted murder. Charges against the group were later reduced to conspiracy and battery and as of yesterday, all but one of the six had been released from jail.

Which brings us to today. What is the message of the demonstrations in Jena? Do those marching believe that the morons who hung the nooses needed to serve jail time? If so, then how in the world can they question tough jail sentences for the six kids that beat one student unconscious? You can't expect serious punishment for offending someone and the soft touch for a violent crime.

There is talk about the lack of hate crimes charges against the white kids, but if their offenses qualified as acts of hatred, would the actions of the black students not qualify for the same penalties?

The inequality of the American justice system for African-Americans is no secret. From lack of proper legal representation to police harassment and racial profiling, the list of reasons to take to the streets and protest is long and diverse. Wasting time bringing more attention to a bunch of small town punks of both races does nothing to solve any of those problems.

Column copyright 2007 Midland Avenue Communications. Reprints without permission are a violation of Federal Law.