Sunday, September 16, 2007

Update on the Jena 6

Via Facing South by way of Victoria Marinelli:

Today a state appeals court threw out the aggravated battery conviction of Mychal Bell, one of the half-dozen black teens facing unusually serious charges for the beating of a white schoolmate amid escalating racial tensions in a small Louisiana town. The Associated Press reports:

Mychal Bell, 17, should not have been tried as an adult, the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal said in tossing his conviction on aggravated battery, for which he was to have been sentenced Thursday. He could have gotten 15 years in prison.

His conspiracy conviction in the December beating of student Justin Barker was already thrown out by another court.

Bell was only 16 at the time of the beating. It occurred after a series of troubling incidents that started when black teens sat under a schoolyard tree that had traditionally been reserved for white students. In response, a group of white students hung three nooses from the tree, an act for which they were punished with a brief expulsion.

Bell's attorney told the AP that he wasn't sure whether his client would get out of jail immediately or face new charges. Four other teens involved in the beating still face adult charges because they were 17 years old at the time of the fight.

Further background/required reading at Group News Blog:

The story? Perhaps you've heard about it.

"It began with a seemingly innocuous question. At an assembly during the first week of classes last fall at Jena High School in rural Louisiana, Kenneth Purvis, a junior, asked the vice principal if he could sit under the shady boughs of an oak tree in the campus courtyard. "You can sit anywhere you like," the vice principal replied. Soon thereafter, Purvis and several black friends ventured over to the tree to hang out with some white classmates. According to the school's unspoken racial codes, however, that area was reserved for white kids; Purvis is black. Some white students didn't look kindly on the encroachment: the next day, three nooses hung from the oak's branches.

That provocation, which conjured up the ugly history of lynch mobs and the Jim Crow South, unleashed a cycle of interracial strife that has roiled the tiny town of Jena. In the ensuing months, black and white students clashed violently, the school's academic wing was destroyed by arson and six black kids were charged with attempted murder for beating a white peer. (The "deadly weapon": tennis shoes they supposedly used to kick the white student knocked unconscious by the first punch.) One of those black students—Mychal Bell, the only one of the "Jena Six" to stand trial so far—was convicted by an all-white jury in June on lesser felony charges of aggravated second-degree battery and is awaiting sentencing. He could face 22 years in prison. In the wake of that judgment, a host of national figures—from the Rev. Al Sharpton to the Nation of Islam to the American Civil Liberties Union—have descended on the town to inveigh against racial injustice. Billy Fowler, a white school-board member, has pledged that when the new school year starts, "we're not going to see black and white anymore. It's going to be right or wrong." But, says the Rev. Raymond Brown of Christians United, which has been working with parents of the Jena Six, "Jena does not want to come up to the 21st century. They are living deep in the past."

Decades of suppressed racial hostility spilled forth at the appearance of those swaying nooses. Word spread quickly that day; before long, scores of black students congregated under the tree. "As black students, we didn't call it a protest," says Robert Bailey Jr., one of the Jena Six. "We just called it standing up for ourselves." School officials convened an assembly in early September, where local District Attorney Reed Walters appeared, flanked by police officers. "I can be your best friend or your worst enemy," he told students, warning them to settle down. "With a stroke of my pen, I can make your lives disappear."

...Understand something. It is the year 2007. Where we joke about, “Where is my flying car? My monorail? The 3.5 jet-packs per family we were promised?”, mocking the progress we were supposed to have made, based on futurists predictions.

It is the year 2007. And as much as we may try to think otherwise, we live in a country where White teenagers will still fight over who can, and who can not sit under a fucking tree during recess at school, based on the color of their skin. For all the crowing about the “browning of America”, and how the kids are un-learning the racism inculcated in the American fabric, this incident should give every one of us pause.

Pause because it speaks to the reality of what we're actually confronting here.

If these kids...these supposedly, rapidly blind-to-color kids will fight over a scraggly patch of grass, don't stand here and try to tell me that their fathers and mothers—the generation presently in control of this country—aren't actively fighting Black folks' inclusion in the more important arenas of participation in the American mosaic.

Do not look me in the face from my TV, and tell me from your visit to New Orleans Mr. President, that Kanye West—crazy as he is—was wrong. The carnival that is American Idol, where “Ohmigosh! Look at all those talented Black people doing so well—aren't they doing so well?” isn't enough of an anesthetic to numb me to the constant, pounding ache that is the reality of not being Black in America—but rather, what dealing with the perceptions from others about one's being Black in America does to you.

Jena brings it all sickeningly home. Teens. Kids. Decades at least, removed from the last picnic/lynching to take place in their neck of the woods, by so-called decent people, somehow knew, in their stupid little turf battle, just what mega-trope, what ultimate nullifier to go to to let those wandering n*ggers know that they meant business about keeping one's place. And then, when those Black kids defiantly said “Better check your calendar, motherfuckers. It is the year 2007!”, those Black teens saw the second wave, the real shock troops—those silly, turf-crazed White kids' parents, jump up with the old-school, authority smackdown all too familiar Post -Reconstruction, to uppity/not-having-it Black folks...

read the rest

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