Saturday, September 22

Do you really want to know what happened in Jena?

I've got a feeling there's a lot o' white pundit folk out there playing dumb:

"What the hell happened in Jena?" -- they ask. We just don't get it. Nevermind that a few of these are law professors (Reynolds*, Althouse**, Kerr***) or bloggers who usually have no trouble ferreting out facts and educating themselves if it fits their specific pet complaints (Sullivan****).

Such a major story about the American justice system -- Law in Action, indeed -- and none of the poor white bloggers seem to be able to wrap their heads around the essential issue: "Did a prosecutor working with a racial bias overstep his bounds?"

You hear tales of fights with previously popped-out eyeballs... and of course, with Mr. Nifong being held as an example, these pundits surely want to stay "neutral" to avoid prejudicing the case or making a wrong call or making themselves look bad. But please, don't pretend the facts are unavailable if you really wanted to learn more.

Funny how most of the black community seems to "get it".

Let me help you out, folks. Maybe Stebbins Jefferson's column today recounting events will help you have a better grasp on facts, what has outraged the black community across the country, and maybe -- just maybe -- some of you will be able to figure what it's all about. Your ears must be getting sandy with your head buried down there.

Here, read the whole thing:

Constitution doesn't apply in Jena

By Stebbins Jefferson
Palm Beach Post Columnist
Saturday, September 22, 2007

The perception that there are two Americas, separate and unequal, supposedly was ended by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and replaced with renewed commitment to equal justice for all without regard to race or ethnicity. The disparate prosecution of the Jena Six in Louisiana is proof that constitutional promise is yet to be realized.

Consequently, while Americans die fighting to deliver democracy to the Iraqi people, here at home, far too many citizens of good conscience are in denial that blatant, racial discrimination continues in our justice system.

Last year, during an assembly at Jena High School, a black student asked whether blacks could sit under the shade tree in the school courtyard. Local traditions notwithstanding, a school administrator answered no school rules prohibit any student from sitting there. The next morning, three nooses were found hanging from the tree.

The principal wanted to expel the three white students responsible, but he was overruled by the superintendent. Calling the incident a "prank," a district official suspended the culprits for three days. In a state where the Tuskegee Institute documented 335 black lynchings from 1882 to 1968, such a cavalier response to a hate crime defies rational understanding.

Subsequently, racial tensions escalated with fights between white and black students on and off campus. In two such instances, white participants were charged with misdemeanor offenses or not at all. Black participants were charged with felonies.

Late in November, the central wing of the high school was burned. Then, on Monday, Dec. 6, according to witnesses, six black boys - all members of the football team - attacked white schoolmate Justin Barker outside the gym, knocking him to the ground, where Mychal Bell (the alleged instigator) and five others kicked the prone white boy as he lay unconscious. Justin Barker was taken to the local hospital, treated and released after three hours. That evening, with bruises on his head and face, he drove himself to the school to attend a ring ceremony. The six black boys were arrested on charges of attempted second-degree murder, their tennis shoes identified as lethal weapons.

In response to public outcry, LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters reduced the charges to aggravated battery, with all but one of the black boys (Jesse Beard, 15) to be tried as adults. Mychal Bell was the first to be tried. On June 28, an all-white jury found him guilty. Facing up to 30 years in prison, he was to have been sentenced Thursday, but a Louisiana appellate court voided the verdict, ruling Bell should not have been tried as an adult. He remains in jail.

There the matter stood Thursday, when 15,000 to 20,000 demonstrators from across America descended on Jena. They had been called into action by black bloggers and radio hosts to address a grave miscarriage of justice that until recently had been either ignored or downplayed by the mainstream media.

Belatedly, the NAACP, Jesse Jackson and PUSH, Rev. Al Sharpton and other organizations got involved to confront the ugly reality that our justice system selectively applies equal protection under the law.

Jena, La., is not a racist aberration. Instead, it is typical of many other towns across our nation where traditions of prejudice have been allowed to continue unabated. The Jena Six played on the football team and sports enthusiasts hailed Mychal Bell in tandem with Carwyn Jones, 18, (another member of the Six) as double trouble on the football field. But the idea of blacks sharing the shade of a courtyard tree was abhorrent to many who assume absolute power to restrict the extent to which blacks' equal rights are to be respected.

A half-century after government-sanctioned segregation was outlawed, racial discrimination continues to thrive in our legal system. So, whatever schoolyard rivalries or petty jealousies provoked the brawl that triggered the legal battle now going on, the critical issue is the integrity of the justice system in these United States.

Townspeople who resent the interference of "outside agitators" must be made to understand that unequal punishment for the black boys is attempted murder of American democracy.

*Here's Tennessee blogger and law professor Glenn Reynolds on the subject:
THE JENA SIX: "Okay, the fact that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are involved doesn't prove that there's no actual injustice, but it was enough to make me email Radley Balko -- I've gotten a lot of email on the case, but most of it seems to assume that I already know what's going on. Radley's lengthy reply is below: click "read more" to read it. As always, it's constructive to ask how people would act if the races were reversed."

** Wisconsin/Brooklyn Law Professor Ann Althouse:
"I keep reading the news stories and intending to blog, but each time I end up searching in vain for the facts I need to understand it enough to begin to write about it. The reporting on this story is atrocious. It's all updates with no background. So, I'm wondering not only what happened in Jena, but why is the press reporting it this way?"

*** Law professor Orin Kerr:
"I'm with Glenn Reynolds on this. I'd really like to blog about the case, and I spent about 30 minutes this morning trying to research it, but I couldn't get a good enough sense of what the facts are or what the precise cause of the protest is to really know what to make of it."

**** Blogger Andrew Sullivan:
"I haven't commented because, frankly, I am still unsure of all the details of the case, some of which may never be known. "

Maybe if the young men hadn't played football at Jena, but lacrosse... ? :-)