Wednesday, June 27, 2007

An Aside on the Jena Six

***Please excuse my all-over-the-place-ness as I think this out, but you're used to it, right?***

In the comments of my very first post about the Jena Six, I had a commenter named Nick who was troubled by my views:
Blah, blah, blah!!! I am a resident of Jena and i have been a resident here all my life. It is really unfortunate that the news only publishes stories that make these young men, the "Jena 6", seem like victims. I happen to know 3 of them and i assure you they are anything but.
Does it really matter what color they are or this student they beat? Its so funny how all these big city hot shots come here and try to make all this a racial thing when really its not!
My immediate response was defensive:
as far as "does color matter?" hell yes. don't even try that BS with me--another rural louisianan. didn't color matter when a tree was still "reserved" for whites only now in 2007? when the nooses were hung? when those boys got a slap on the hand?
as far as trying to make this not be a "racial thing"--good attempt with the "i don't remember how this started." it'd be easy to say "with nooses hung from trees," but somehow, i suspect it goes beyond that, past the mistreatment of (largely African American) Jefferson Parish Prison detainees who were moved to Jena after Hurricane Katrina, past the brutalization of the young men in the old juvenile prison, past the overwhelming support of jena's white populace for a former ku klux klan leader for governor.Keep your head buried in the sand, Nick. Jena has a race problem. And it's not young black men.
Nick's response included:
elle, obviously your missing my point entirely! I LIVE HERE IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY In JENA! Do you? I know all about what racisim is, trust me!
The majority of people in this town are not racist though. I work in a place where i talk to cops daily and most of them also beleive that attempted second degree murder is really extreme.
I wanted to continue the discussion, but I felt that I owed Nick an apology (which is why I asked Nick to e-mail me). Not because I changed my position, but because 1) I had professed to want views from people in and around Jena and felt that I dismissed Nick's when I jumped defensive and 2) my initial response to Nick was full of assumptions.

Still, I am troubled by Nick's assertion that some of these boys were "bad" and the resultant implication that being charged with attempted murder is somehow deserved because of alleged past actions (not Nick's position, but I've seen it). It reminds me of all the purported discussions during the civil rights era that emphasized putting only positive-reputation-having, well-dressed, "respectable" people on the frontlines in sit-ins and on segregated bus seats and during acts of civil disobedience. Of course, the technique was undoubtedly necessary.

But still, it begs the question (a question that I'm dealing with in another part of my online life as well), for whom do we seek justice and fair treatment? Whose criminalization and/or negative characterization do we resist? S/he of the spotless past and unimpugnable reputation? Those with the "right" color or money, who can have what they do dismissed as pranks or a misstep (rather than an inherent flaw) or "unintended to offend?"

Vox, as usual, beautifully summarizes why, no matter what unrelated allegations about the Jena Six arise, no matter how many people cry "reverse racism!" (because I, for example, obviously think it's okay for black people to beat up white people and that black people should "get away with" said beatings), the circumstances of this case, from the way provocative actions before the fight were dismissed to the unreasonable charges, point to racism and the difficulty these young men will have in getting a fair trial:
a. Only three of the six teens arrested participated in the fight.
b. Several white teenagers jumped and beat up a black teen the weekend before the fight and were charged only with battery.
c. A white teenager threatened a black teen with a shotgun and was not charged with a crime.
d. White teens threatened the lives of the black teens by hanging the nooses from that tree and were never punished.
e. The boy who was “beaten” in the afternoon was up and at his ring ceremony that same evening.

It’s not racism because they’re being prosecuted for beating another teen. It’s racism because the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, and because similar crimes by white teens in the four months preceding the “beating” were not punished at all.
In other words, that racism affects this case is not something that bloggers, or some newspapers, or the faceless "leaders of national organizations" made up to malign residents of Jena or to divert attention from "the 'real' victim."

I bobble as I try to walk the line between respecting Nick's position as a Jena resident and giving voice to my own lived experience(s) as a black, rural Louisianan. Still, my questions to Nick and people of this mindset remain:
Is the law being administered differently based on race? How does the historical mistreatment of African Americans in Jena's "justice system," affect this case? Is a fair trial for young men that citizens like you are working so hard to paint a criminalized picture of possible in Jena?
I deeply believe that race and place matter in this case, and I worry for the lives of these young men. No matter what allegations are hurled at them, they deserve to be treated fairly and justly.

1 comment:

elle said...

then we all might start seeing a light at the end of this dark tunnel that you all have created

not to imply that you're racist or anything, but who's "you all."

you think all of this "racial stuff" is fed by blacks and whites don't feed racial vibes?

please, pick up a book on white privilege quickly. it may explain a lot of things, including why you can't see white people's roles in "feeding" "racial stuff"

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