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The Jena Six
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Since all this is right down the road from me, I figure it's about time I comment on it.

If you haven't heard of the Jena Six by now, you probably don't read the news much. Here's the Wikipedia entry on the racial tension in the town and a rough timeline of events over the past year, though of course the article is locked and I'm sure elements of it are in dispute. By the way, I hear the correct pronunciation for Jena is "gina".

At this point, it's extremely difficult to figure out with a strong degree of accuracy what took place, since the whole case is infused with bigotry and mistrust.

Here, for example, is a YouTube summary of the case, from a less-than-biased "news source".

Our story begins at Jena High School, under a tree traditionally reserved for use by white students only, during school breaks. And yes, you heard that correctly.

When I heard just that first part, I had to shake my head. How exactly was the tree "traditionally reserved for use by white students only"? There were no "whites only" signs, and when a black student asked if he could sit there, the principal appropriately said of course, that he could sit wherever he wanted. In another story I read about the case, black students apparently tended to sit in the bleachers during lunch. Did that make the bleachers "traditionally reserved for use by black students only"? No. Having grown up in a Southern mixed-race community myself, I know that the sad fact is that students tend to self-segregate along racial lines. I don't know if some kind of forced, integrated seating at lunchtimes would be a possible remedy to this sort of thing, but it's not a situation unique to Jena, and it's not Jim Crow either.

However, then the next day there were nooses hanging from the tree. The principal (who sounds very much like he was doing the right thing), found out which students were responsible and expelled them. The school board and Superintendent Roy Breithaupt overruled the decision and gave the students three days of in-school suspension.

I don't like the designation "hate crime". Some crimes are committed in cold blood, others with passion, but this term is specifically meant to refer to crimes motivated by discrimination. I do think the "prank" implied threat of violence and that expulsion was an appropriate punishment, so I think it's completely understandable that many people were upset.

This incident apparently led to escalating racial tensions, fights, arson, and ultimately the assault, last December, of Justin Barker by six black students, now the "Jena Six". Barker was apparently knocked unconscious. Some reports say the attackers kept kicking him after he was unconscious, including in the head. However, he was released from the hospital later and attended a ring ceremony, which he left early from because of pain.

Five of the students were initially charged with assault (one was 14 and couldn't be charged as an adult). However, LaSalle Parish District Attorney J. Reed Walters, who had previously said to a school assembly that he could make their lives disappear with the stroke of a pen, upped the charges to second-degree murder.

It sounds like, in part due to the national exposure, the charges are being reduced, and fair and reasonable charges will be brought against the remaining students. Some people want a review in light of civil rights laws, which is also probably reasonable.

It sounds to me as if the Superintendent and the District Attorney both made shitty decisions. In the first case, it sounds as if the Principal had been doing a decent job, and in the second the police filed appropriate charges.

I think the whole affair is a sad, sick reminder of lingering racial problems in this country that continue to perpetuate to upcoming generations. It's been especially depressing to me to move to a state where race relations are even worse than they are in Texas. Louisiana has a larger ratio of blacks to whites, but the partitioning seems even worse. It's strange that people living so close to one another, so interdependent socially and economically, still remain firmly entrenched in their own racial cliques. Maybe it'll take another generation or two, or three, or four...

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