Race and Jena 6

I recall attending a lecture in which Toni Morrison told the audience that America is most divided on Sunday mornings. I have always found it fitting that in the South black Christians and white Christians can attend church and talk about love, until it means loving a person of another color. My mom used to remind me of this while I was growing up in Montgomery, Alabama — a city full of racial hate. Because of this, my parents never embraced God. To this day, they both do not believe in the existence of a God or a magical man who walked the earth and died for hate, racism, and status. I am curious to ask my parents about Jena, Louisiana and the Jena 6 issue. Jena is an 85% white community divided by race. The vast majority of people claim to be Christians who attend church weekly. Question: Can a man who lives by the word of Christ enter the kingdom of heaven as a bigot? Probably not. Jim Crow is not in heaven.

Here is a brief video clip of the Jena 6 story.

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28 thoughts on “Race and Jena 6

  1. I was planning on asking your opinion on this topic next class.

    The OT is racist, sexist, and a whole mess of other things. To go along with what we discussed earlier, there is always a motive behind everything, and a preacher could easily quote the OT to use it against others. Also these are protestants we are talking about here. Wasn’t a big goal to have church not be your entire life? Going from that to not taking everything to the heart isn’t that far fetched.

    What is your opinion on their legal status? I’m seeing a definite political agenda with Jackson…

  2. The fact that they are in jail is what makes this a Jim Crow issue. I do not think the protest will force the state to free them. I like the solidarity of blacks and whites together on this across the nation. There is progress.

  3. Jason Whitlock has a strong view on the matter, and doesn’t think the noose incident had much to do with the later beating:

    http://www.kansascity.com/sports/columnists/jason_whitlock/story/284511.html

    “The best way for a black (or white) father to ensure that his son doesn’t fall victim to a racist prosecutor is by participating in his son’s life on a daily basis.”

    This is a big mess. Students putting up nooses? (There is still such a thing as a “White Tree” on a public school ground?! You gotta be kidding me…) Lowering the punishment for the noose-hangers to a wrist slap? Arson? A serial thug/star QB beating up a lone white kid, 6-on-1? Charging the beaters with attempted murder with a deadly weapon (a shoe)? Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson paratrooping into town? Sounds like there is plenty enough stupidity and racism on everyone’s face here.

  4. Last night, in Montgomery, Alabama, in a church dinner at the preacher’s house, my white daughter shared a brownie with a black firefighter, and I played the infant son of a West Indian immigrant while a fomer Catholic talked about raising his teenage son while our new, black Pentacostal sister asked for prayers about her new marriage.

    I say all of that to shine a bit of optimism and hope in the midst of some awful times perpetuating in Louisiana this week. The Jena situation is fueled by racism and injustice, but let us not forget that three Birmingham Southern students are incarcerated today for a long time while their white parents seek reconconciliation and forgiveness from the black churches their sons torched.

  5. JRB,

    You have a very good point; I visit Montgomery very little (bad seeing that my parents still live there). I think I did rush the gun in judgement. I know you. I know your faith and heart. Of course your kid is going to be great.

  6. In response to the question posed about a bigot being able to enter the kingdom of heaven, I pose another question. Since bigotry is summarily one man’s hatred of another human being on account of race, ethnicity, or possibly religion, would a person that hated another man for any particular reason be able to enter the kingdom of heaven? Also, how can one who truly hates another person enter? Obviously, those mentioned above could not have even been true christians if they were simultaneously bigots, because they had hatred in their hearts.

  7. Three weeks ago, as I was driving with my cousin and her friend, who were “vacationing” with me from college, I heard about the Jena 6 on NPR. I was in disbelief. At first I thought, “is this a historical account.” Well, as we all know, this case is not only a part of our history, but it is a part of our present reality. As I listened to the newscaster unfold the tale of how the Jena 6 came to be, I kept hoping for the voice of reason, a teacher, parent, a law enforcement officer/agent, who would tell us all that the entire situation just came to their attention and would be rectified immediately. Sadly, that’s not what I heard. What I heard was (1) that a freshman high school student felt the need to ask the principal to sit under a “whites only tree;” (2) 3 nooses, in school colors, were hung on the tree–the student culprits were expelled until the school board overturned the expulsion; (3) that 3 black students were confronted by a bigot with a shotgun, and after disarming this man, the students were charged with theft and the armed bigot went unpunished; (4) one black student was beaten up by a group of white kids at a party; and, (4) the following day, one white student (the “victim”) racially taunted the black student who’d been beaten up the prior night, in response the “Jena 6” allegedly beat up the taunter. I say allegedly since only the Jena 6 were charged and are innocent until proven guilty. Since the other juveniles in the prior incidences were never charged…I guess they’re still considered innocent…. To top it off, I also heard that the District Attorney decided to intervene in the midst of this student friction at a school function and told the you that “he could end their lives with a stroke of a pen” (I’m unclear as to whether these comments were directed to the students as a whole or to a segment of the population.” Then today, the associated press reports that some nazi website has listed the addresses and phone numbers of the accused juveniles–unbelievable!! So of course the families are now getting hate calls.

    Well, as a prosecutor, I was appalled–appalled that DA intervened in a counter-productive way and failed to use prosecutorial discretion in an honest and equitable manner, appalled that the school board, by its inaction condoned the perpetuation of racial intolerance and appalled that those state agents (the DA’s office and the school board), in concert provided yet another opportunity for Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to appear to remain relevant in the new millennium. The two reverends are a distraction from the fact that the school board totally mishandled the situation. They do, however, highlight some of the problems with the criminal justice system. The appellate court reversed Mychal Bell’s conviction, not because of the racial inequities involved in the filing of the charges, trial and sentencing, but rather because he was tried as an adult–how basic is that. How could a seasoned prosecutor not know what the charges for which he was attempting to charge a juvenile made the juvenile ineligible to tried as an adult. More importantly, did the circumstances even warrant such a charging decision (even the most fervent “law and order” type people would have to agree that charging Mychal Bell with attempted murder is excessive).

    If the school board had handled the matter correctly in the first place, the criminal justice system would not have gotten involved. Instead you have 6 scholarship recipients, most of whom, from what I understand, received academic and athletic scholarships, having felony arrests and/or convictions on their records. The consequences of which, practically speaking, might make them virtually unemployable. You have students of both races being left with the memory, perhaps a permanent one for some, of how they were mistreated by the system and the opposite race; likely negatively infecting their relationship with people of other races with stereotypes and generalizations. That’s injustice no matter how you slice it.

    Eddie…finally a random topic that I can blog about:-)….K

  8. Good to hear from you K.

    Since you are the expert, maybe you know the answer to this: Is there a big difference from what Nifong did in the Duke case and what this DA has done? To me it seems that decisions were made along racial lines. What is sad is the number of people who did not know about this case. Society is to into OJ and not real racial injustices.

    K, as you stated here:

    “The consequences of which, practically speaking, might make them virtually unemployable. You have students of both races being left with the memory, perhaps a permanent one for some, of how they were mistreated by the system and the opposite race; likely negatively infecting their relationship with people of other races with stereotypes and generalizations. That’s injustice no matter how you slice it.’

    I think this is more of the real issue. Although, the Bell kid, from my understanding has a serious record already. The white kid who was beaten was also kicked out of school and did not graduate for bringing a loaded shot gun to the campus. The schoo board did act, just not in the right way. They allowed the white kids to come back to school with no punishment for their actions.

  9. Joubert,

    Nice point! I guess the answer to your question is no — one cannot. This means that I am in some trouble as well. Race is a major part of this story; however, the injustice as K mentioned is the real issue. Nice to hear from you as well.

  10. Eddie,
    First let me clarify a couple of things–
    According to the Chicago Tribune, with respect to the gun incident: The next day, black students at a convenience store were threatened by a young white man with a shotgun. They wrestled the gun from him and ran away. While no charges were filed against the white man, the students were arrested for the theft of the gun. I haven’t read that those kids were expelled. To me, in that case, charges needed to be filed. I doubt that he was expelled since the incident occurred off school grounds.

    As for Bell’s record, from what I’ve read, he was an honor student and had 3 prior criminal contacts (I’m nor sure if they were just arrests or were convictions) 2 for battery and 2 for criminal damage to property (one of these was with a battery so he probably damaged someone’s property while in a fight). What I do know is a battery can consist of anything from simply pushing someone to really hurting a person–I have no idea where Bell’s offenses are on this spectrum.

    Here’s a bit more info re: what the DA did:

    The District Attorney then came to the school accompanied by the town’s police and demanded that the students (who were protesting under the once noose-laden tree) end their protest, telling them, “I can be your best friend or your worst enemy… I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen.” So, he did target his comments at one group of protesting kids (I’m not sure if the kids were of various races or just black).

    So, to answer your question, in my opinion, what this DA did was equally bad, if not worse. In this case, the DA entered the scene, inflaming tensions and targeting one group by threats. In the Duke case, the allegation of rape was brought to him. He probably believed the victim’s account of what happened initially. However, he did what prosecutors shouldn’t do–give his opinion about a pending case to the press. Obviously enjoying the spotlight, he puffed up the evidence in the case. This is a no-no, especially when the scientific evidence isn’t back yet. Evidently, he got the DNA test results back and hid them from the defense–not only is this unethical, but its simply unfair and unprofessional. It could’ve been the case that one or more of these men didn’t leave DNA behind (for a number of reasons, including the use of prophylactics) , if that’s the case, then it would’ve been his job to try to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt if other evidence still supported the charge–you don’t hide evidence just because it’s favorable to the defense. The result is that he then made those boys look innocent(I have no idea if they were or weren’t)–because he was on a mission to save face– instead of it simply being the case that the evidence wasn’t sufficient. Just because the evidence isn’t sufficient doesn’t mean that the person is innocent; it simply means the Government can’t prove the very high burden that it has in a criminal case, which is to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. For the record, I take no position on whether these boys were guilty. I didn’t follow the case that closely b/c women are violated every day and they don’t make the news, so throwing in the race card didn’t make this case any more compelling than all the other cases of faceless victims. However, I was interested in the case from an ethical/ professional responsibility stand-point. Even though I’m a prosecutor, I believe that the Gov’t should always play fair. If you’re a good prosecutor and have the evidence, then let your case speak for you in the court of law, you don’t need to make your case in the court of public opinion.

  11. K,

    While the case against Mychal Bell was unjust, he is hardly a hero. He participated in an attack that left a student unconscious. IMO, he was just very lucky that the injury did not result in something far worse as head injuries often do. Further, Mychal Bell’s criminal history contained four other violent crimes and he was on probation at the time of the most recent crime.

  12. K,

    Thanks for the clarity here. Your expertise as a lawyer adds a very different point of view that most of us who read this blog do not have. Your point about the Jena case and the Duke case is pretty interesting; however, at this point, it seems that the state believe Nifong to be more in the wrong seeing that he is no longer allowed to practice law and had to spend a day or two in jail.

    Also, I want to put forward a hypothesis that the real tragedy is getting buried within the minutiae of the court case. That in this day and age teenagers segregate themselves and show more blatant racism than their parents. How is this the case in the 21st century? It is even sadder that this happened in a school where future minds are supposed to be shaped. So, K, these scholar students might have added more to their traditional studies.

    Good News: Bell’s record will be locked away once the state deems him an adult.
    Bad News: What will his life be like in Jena afterwards? Will people remember. There are a number of black academics that I have spoken to who agree with Jaso John. But, you know that many blacks do not trust the government when it comes to cases of race. Here is an earlier blog I wrote addressing such an issue.

  13. Jason,
    Please don’t get me wrong, Bell is no hero, and I have in no way painted him as such–I didn’t say that what he did was right, I didn’t try to excuse or justify what he did, I didn’t say that all the prior incidences justfied him placing his hands on anyone, and I didn’t say that he shouldn’t be punished. In fact what I stated was that had the school system handled the initial incident appropriately, we might not even know who Mychal Bell is today. But, since they didn’t, he definitely should be punished EQUITABLY, for what he did–violence is violence. What I was trying to do was paint the entire picture of re: Bell, from my perspective. Perhaps you have more information regarding Bell’s criminal record that I saw published, he had 3 contacts with the law. I have no idea if these were convictions–if they weren’t then that means that the state did not prove his guilt (not necessarily that he was innocent). But let’s assume that they were convictions, as a juvenile his criminal history should not impact the prosecutor’s decision as to whether he should be charged as an adult. Perhaps you consider it when determining whether to charge him (b/c he should’ve known better), and you consider it for determining bail and it’s also reflected at sentencing, but with respect to the crux of the issue here–charging him as an adult with attempted murder–unless Louisiana had a law to the contrary, which evidently it didn’t b/c the appellate court reversed the conviction, what the prosecutor did was wrong.

    Eddie,
    Re: Nifong, The state did not deem Nifong to be more wrong than than the Duke Lacrosse players, they simply found his conduct unethical and unprofessional and sanctioned him for it. If I’m reading your statement correctly, “is seems that the sate believed Nifong to be more in the wrong, then the media (definitely with Nifong’s help and encouragement) has succeeded in making this a case of Nifong vs. the Duke players when, in fact, the case was State v. (the individual names of the defendant Duke players). Nifong wasn’t more wrong, he was simply wrong, and because he screwed up the case, we will never really know what happened one way or the other. Those boys never really got a chance to clear their name-the case was dropped b/c Nifong made such a mess of it–nor, did the state get a chance to prove their guilt. These boys will forever be seen as boys who “may” have raped the girl b/c they never got a chance to put the government to the test in court. This girl will also be seen as the girl who “may” have lied on those boys b/c her credibility was never tested on the witness stand. Nifong’s hunger for the spolight destroyed any hope of justice be served either way. BTW, the minute that I heard that THE DA was trying the case, I knew it would get screwed up. The DA is the head of the office, the CEO, if you will. They don’t try cases, they manage the office. They leave the trials to folks lower on the totem pole like yours truly.

  14. Of course, K, we all know that Nifong was playing the race card to earn a position as DA. There are some who are saying he exploits blacks just as much as any other DA — including the Jena DA. I clearly do not agree with this. It may be because I simply think I understand the situation but do not. It is a media game; in the Duke case, popular view has shifted against the black co-ed. As for the Jena 6 and Bell, the last poll I saw showed that most people..black and white support them.

    Thanks for addressing the whole matter with the DA trying the case; I too found that to be odd. Of course I only have Law and Order to model that DAs do not try cases. Plus, a DA is an elected official subjected to politics and all of the mess that goes with that.

  15. Well, people support the Jena 6, rightfully so, because the situation, as a whole was unfair and had racial intolerance and/or animus written all over it. Bell is but a symbol of racial injustice in Jena and unfortunately in other places as well. The overt nature of it was so blatant that you can’t help but be supportive of the movement. Perhaps school boards and other community decision-makers will think be more vigilant about protecting civil rights for all.

    As for the racial exploitation re: the Duke matter, I agree with you. I don’t think that th DA was trying to exploit blacks, he was simply trying to promote his own national stature. Had it been an allegation by a white celebrity (I wanted to make the case more newsworthy) female that the players had raped her, he would’ve undoubtedly done the same thing. He wanted the press my any means necessary.

    Well, enough about that, I’d like to hear you thoughts about the Iranian president’s speech at Columbia…as an alum, I have a few words to add to that discussion:-)

  16. Thanks Jaylon. I’m new to making a contribution to a blog, other than my own. I’m usually a spectator. You guys are a very astute group. I enjoyed the dialogue. Sorry the posts are so long…you know we lawyers love to talk….

    Thanks Eddie for inviting me…forgot how I love to talk, huh….

  17. We have a number of regulars who are bright and fair. And some that stop from time to time. This is my way of dealing with stress or thinking about the future. You will really like hearing from Jaylon, Kristi, and the famous Matt S, who I went to school with. They keep my ego in check. We are all about the rant and perspective. The blog has become more moderate in recent months due to who I work for — read the tenure blog and you will get the point.

    K, I hope that you will continue to make a stop here as well as write a piece for the group to comment on.

  18. I am surprised that the racists did not try to use God as an excuse to practice their hateful crime against humanity. The racist have always tried to spread Christianity as a guise to enslave and exploit the minority’s. Am I wrong if so tell me? Me even though I am a white southerner I am disgusted, appalled, against and would join th cause of the minority’s in this time. I have disowned the people of the past that practiced this dreadful practice. The people that stood by and did nothing and just acepted it are worse than those that perpetuated these atrocity’s. And I can say with out a inkling of a doubt that Jim Crow is burning in hell right next to Hitler and Saddam.

  19. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article2629185.ece

    Any thoughts?

    Eddie, I noticed that you began this convo w/ a description of growing up in Montgomery, a city full of racial hate–were you referring to Montgomery’s legacy or your personal observations growing up there? If the latter, I must say that I never knowingly observed or experienced racial animus even though I was a part of the entering 7th grade class that really integrated my jr. high school. But, maybe that was just my experience. I will say though that as far as kids were concerned, people did and still do break off into their race-based cliques for lunch, etc., but unfortunately, I think that happens in all large schools.

  20. “referring to Montgomery’s legacy or your personal observations growing up there? ” Both

    Like the city of Memphis, Montgomery is linked to its racial past; I realize that many assumed I was distant from much of this because of the private school I attended and the number of white friends I had — but that is what made me even more aware of it. The city is integrated de jure, seperated by de facto norms as you stated above. Playing the role of a now distant quasi ethnographic observer, Montgomery has failed to escape its racial past. This has much to do with blacks and whites. Sure, we all tolerated each other in the halls of our campuses, but the reality of historical markers makes it too difficult to move forward. Your friend Ravi hinted at this some in his book.

    I know I sound bitter here, but I am not. I have removed myself from the emotional aspect and now focus much of my current work on “what is.” I will be including Montgomery private schools in my research and writings on race and independent schools. I am looking primarily at Montgomery Academy, though much of the work looks at boarding schools not day schools.

    see here: https://ecarson.wordpress.com/2007/07/30/my-research-trip-to-the-north-east/

    As for Columbia, I am still confused by the noose; I suspect it might not be a student there, but an outsider; I am not saying CU is above racism, but I find it hard to believe a student would risk expulsion and a marked record for such an event.

  21. What did you think about Ravi’s book, Like Trees Walking? (shameless plug) You know Ravi recently moved back to Alabama and is now living in Mobile, which has an equal, or worse, historical racial marker. He, like you, went to a private school, Montgomery Academy in fact for. jr. high and maybe elem. school. They both then went to LAMP, which I think you would agree was simply a private school w/in a public school. His best friend, whom you also know, also grew up in Montgomery and is now in B’ham. He too went to Montgomery Academy. These are 2 men who’ve probably walked in your high school experience shoes, have lived primarily in the NE since leaving home and are now back, by choice, in Alabama as professionals. Perhaps, as Montgomery Academy alum, they might be a resource in your research. I do wonder though why their perspective, re: growing up in Montgomery, is somewhat different from yours.

    Having lived up and down the NE, I can’t say that I find Montgomery to currently have any more racial polarization than NYC or DC. There are still racial/ethnic neighborhoods in NYC (places where certain minority groups don’t feel comfortable walking at night)…same for DC and Miami. And, the majority of minorities are still living in the worst neighborhoods and consequently attend the worst schools. I don’t know…I guess in my humble opinion, unresearched and unscholarly as it is, I think that racial dynamics of the north and south are now the same. I think that more often than not, disparities are a function of class and net worth and less a function of pure racial animus or racial intolerance. The problem is that because many minorities are born into socio-economic realities that only above average/mediocre (in terms of drive and acumen) can escape, they, like all immigrants to this country, group together b/c of comfort b/c of their similar experiences. Apathetic observers then simply ignore or disregard them until it’s politically expedient to address their needs. I think that b/c of the intersection of race and class (at least as it relates to the large number of minorities who are within lower socio-economic classes), class-ism is mistaken as pure racism. I believe that this phenomenon touches very part of this country just as it touches Montgomery.

    Why haven’t I moved back?:-) It’s too slow for me and I’d like more diverse community….

  22. Wow K, you asked a great question. I am not sure why his experience was different from mine. I will share more with you as to my racial conclusion via e-mail. I think some of it might sound familiar — maybe not. You are right about race and class….They are easy to confuse, often conflated because the urban poor tends to be black in many cities.

    As for the NE, I am sure racial division is just as heightened there as it is in the South; I have not spent much time up there. In areas such as Montgomery, there tends to be only black and white, thus that relationship gets all of the attention. You are right as always, Montgomery does not offer enough diversity for me either — in all categories. As for Lamp, it has gone through a lot of changes since you were there; it has moved out of Lanier to its own campus. It is the elite program in Montgomery.

    As for Mr. Howard’s book, I got it in the mail two weeks ago and have only looked at a few chapters. I do intend on writing a short book review of it on this blog. Thanks for telling me that he went to MA; I will touch bases with him about his school experience via your webpage. I sense that you will be a great help here.

  23. I have been meaning to post this but never could find this thread until now.
    Here is an interesting timeline of events that approaches things from a much less exaggerated perspective. It seems the above comments only give things from the point ov view of the Black kids.

    http://www.thejenatimes.net/ChronologicalEvents.pdf

    So you are telling me that they are having their civil rights violated for being prosecuted for attacking a lone person from behind by knocking him unconscious with a single blow to the back of the head then repeatedly stomping on him and kicking him in the head while he can’t do any thing to fight back. When K says that they were approached by a racist man with a shotgun she was only giving black kids point of view. The man said he was attacked by the kids and they stole his gun. His story was corraborated by two uninvolved witnesses. I believe this did result in convictions. As for the comment of the DA ya’ll are giving his full quote. (directed at a group of dumb blonde girls talking on their cellphones while he was speaking.)

    “As I got aggravated with the white girls, I made reference to the
    aggravated rape case and say, look, I can be your best friend or
    your worst enemy. With the stroke of a pen I can make
    your life miserable so I want you to call me before you do
    something stupid.”

    What did the DA do wrong here? I don’t see anything.

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