Jena 6

Dave posted a great video about the Jena 6 situation over at the mindful mission.

For those of you who haven’t heard about the case: you can get an overview by watching the video or reading about it (Word document) at Friends of Justice. In a nutshell:

On the morning of September 1, 2006, three nooses dangled from a tree in the High School square in Jena, Louisiana. The day before, at a school assembly, black students had asked the vice principal if they could sit under that tree.

Characterizing the noose incident as an innocent prank, a discipline committee meted out a few days of in-school suspension and declared the matter settled.

At the end of November, the central academic wing of Jena High School was destroyed by fire. Over the weekend, a stream of white-initiated racial violence swept over the tiny community, adding to the trauma and tension. The following Monday, a white student was punched and kicked following a lunch-hour taunting match. Six black athletes were arrested and charged with conspiracy to attempt second-degree murder. If convicted, some defendants are facing sentences of between twenty-five and 100 years in prison without parole.

(Charges for three of the six have since been reduced to aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy, with a possible sentence of 22 years. Keep in mind that the victim was briefly treated in the hospital and released, and he attended a social function later that evening.)

It shouldn’t need to be said, but looking around, I can see that it does: nobody is condoning the violence against the white student. It was wrong. It would make everything so much more clear-cut if all of the Jena 6 were innocent of any wrongdoing, but that’s apparently not the case.

But the fact remains that six young black men could have their lives ruined by a wildly out-of-proportion prosecution. The fact remains that several threatening and criminal acts by whites against blacks were dealt with lightly or not at all. The fact remains that black kids who dared to sit under the “white tree” got a reminder that people like them used to get lynched not so long ago. That some or all of the Jena 6 were also in the wrong doesn’t make any of that racism disappear.