Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Jena 6 and the Little Rock 9

Dear Jena 6,

I don't know where to start, exactly. But I know where not to start—silently. I don't know exactly what to say—but I will say something. I know that issues are rarely completely clear—but that doesn't mean that they aren't clear enough.

Fifty years ago, before you kids were born, and before I was old enough to have to care, because I was white and living in Pennsylvania in a town with a fairly small black population, nine children like you risked their lives, before the nation and the national guard, to grasp a piece of justice, a shard of dream, a handhold of education. Little Rock has changed over the years. Click to the high school web site and you'll see that they proudly list the nine graduates as featured alumni.


But things in the United States have not changed enough over those 50 years. I am ashamed for us. I am ashamed for what that lack of change has meant for you. Media, from across the United States has begun to cover the case of the Jena 6. Here is a link to a Chicago Tribune article and below is a quote from a Christian Science Monitor article:

"The story of the Jena 6 is long and filled with stunning details. The basic points are these: In the predominantly white town of Jena, La., white students hung three nooses last September after black students sat under a schoolyard tree where white students normally congregated. The white students were suspended for three days. After black students protested peacefully, the La Salle Parish district attorney threatened them, saying, "I can make your life go away with a stroke of a pen." Eventually there was a schoolyard fight in which a white student was beaten; he was treated for a concussion and multiple bruises. Although the student was well enough to attend a school function the same evening, six black boys between the ages of 15 and 17 were arrested, five of whom were charged as adults with attempted murder and conspiracy. The sixth student was charged as a juvenile.

"Some in mainstream America may think that blacks feel vindicated or satisfied by tales of racism such as this one, since America often lives in denial about racism and racial inequality. On the contrary, for black Americans to hear of the Jena 6 is to feel as though the color has been washed out of our lives, that we are suddenly watching ourselves in grainy black-and-white footage of the Jim Crow South. Our vulnerabilities are laid bare before all the world; a school fight can cost our children their lives, and it can happen without America giving so much as a second look. "

I am also ashamed that I have not raised my voice enough, or loudly enough to say "No!" to the injustices and racisms in this world and in our land, and in my town, and in your town. I raised no voice in 1957 when 9 students did something to change the lives of everyone in the United States for the good. I know better now. My voice is a rather small voice, I warn you, but I will raise my voice now, on your behalf.

Free the Jena 6.

My prayers are with you,

Betsy

3 comments:

Anne G G said...

Wow, you've written a lot since I was here last. I've been having a vigorous discussion with my online friends about the Jena 6. The media accounts seem to differ so broadly from one source to the other that it is difficult to reconstruct a fully accurate picture of what happened -- but a few things are clear. First, the authorities involved treated white threats against blacks as "pranks" and black threats against whites as murderous conspiracies. Secondly, the Jena 6 cannot possibly receive fair trials in the local legal system.

I guess I don't think 6 kids who beat up one kid, leaving him unconscious and injured (one version of the story) should go free without consequence. Certainly not under normal circumstances. But on the other hand, a system that doesn't acknowledge the dire symbolic threat presented to black Americans by the hanging of a noose can't possibly be trusted to get the facts right, let alone administer justice to six kids who retaliated against the white community after being threatened repeatedly by students and teachers and government officials alike.

In addition to freeing the students, what do you think would be the best course of action?

brd said...

It is my opinion that there should be immediate federal intervention. There should be no dilly-dallying any longer. In the 1957 case of the Little Rock 9, the action of Dwight Eisenhower was decisive and deterred violence.

In this case, much water has already flowed under the damn. The federal government needs to send a strong signal that local southern officials cannot start playing fast and loose, again, with racism. I definitely agree with Al Sharpton's call for intervention

The noose incident could certainly be considered a hate crime. The boys responsible for that should be sent a strong message that such actions are more unacceptable than fist-a-cuffs.

I'm working in my mind on a second installment of this post, so I will stop with that. (Dilly-dallying? Fist-a-cuffs? Where did those words come from? 1957 I guess.)

Josh said...

I started out thinking, "Just this one quick comment." It has since turned into 3 lines of thought, each different, and together showing the mixed feelings I have regarding this situation.

1) The facts as the media have portrayed them, not only vary differently, but are often wrong. How can we judge a situation based on hearsay rather than facts?
An AP article regarding 6 myths surrounding the Jena 6:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070922/ap_on_re_us/a_place_called_jena_3;_ylt=ApvcexcbjCKgxnvxcvoZglwkeedF

2) You are right--we have not come far enough. If nooses being hung (whether 2 or 3) is not a hate crime, what is?

3) I think I know why the public makes no big notice of this event. We have been desensitized to non-fatal violence because of the guns, shootings, and 'Columbine-style' rampages in the past several years. As a result, a single boy who was injured in a schoolyard fight gets little, if any attention, even though the racial motivations are present. Sadly, race is yesterday's news, and we want the next, biggest, worst thing to get our attention.


Sigh...