Monday, June 25, 2007

Fifty years ago, still the same... or is it?

One side of a school yard has a shady tree. It is a segregated school yard, and only white kids have been allowed on the side with the shady tree. Black kids have their patch on the other side of the yard.

So a few black kids formally ask the school administration for permission to go to the other side of the yard and sit under the tree. It is granted.

So the next day black students arrived at school to see that the tree had been decorated for their arrival. With three hangman's nooses.

The school superintendent overrules the principal on punishment for the white students who put the nooses there and suspends the students for three days, calling the nooses "a prank."

After the slap on the wrist punishment is handed out, racial tensions quickly escalate, including fights and arson (no arrests yet in the arson which partially destroyed the school.) Then a black student is beaten when he shows up at an all-white party. No one was charged.

Three days later a white student confronted three black students in the parking lot of a convenience store and pointed a shotgun at them. The black students defended themselves by wrestling the shotgun away from the offender. Charges were filed-- against the three black youths for aggravated battery and theft for taking the gun away. The white man who pointed the gun at them was not arrested and was never charged with a crime.

Then a group of black youth beat a white kid senseless as he was leaving the gym on December 4. Remember that no charges were filed for the beating at the party. But this time charges are filed-- for attempted second degree murder, which is likely to land the kids who did the beating in prison for up to 100 years apiece. In other words, effectively a life sentence for doing exactly the same thing as resulted in no charges at all just a few days earlier when the victim was black and the perps were white. Of course the six black students who are accused of the beating should be charged with a serious felony-- without a doubt this is aggravated battery, but charges should be filed both proportionately (which attempted murder leading to life in prison is disproportionate) and against anyone who commits the same crime.

Louisiana in 1957? No, Louisiana in 2007.

What amazes me most about this is how most of the townspeople (well, the white ones anyway) don't think they have a race problem.

The district attorney declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story. But other white leaders insist there are no racial tensions in the community, which is 85 percent white and 12 percent black.

"Jena is a place that's moving in the right direction," said Mayor Murphy McMillan. "Race is not a major local issue. It's not a factor in the local people's lives. "

Still others, however, acknowledge troubling racial undercurrents in a town where only 16 years ago white voters cast most of their ballots for David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who ran unsuccessfully for Louisiana governor.

I will say that a later quote in the article appears to only tell part of what Pentecostal Minister Eddie Thompson wrote in his essay so I will link the entirety of his original essay here: The Battle Against Racism in Jena, Louisiana he adds a note of explanation at the beginning in which he writes in part:

I have decided to keep the article here and add this explanation: I believe that racism, bigotry, and hatred exist in our community just as it does in villages, towns, and cities all across the United States, North and South. I reject the notion that our local law enforcement, governmental, and educational institutions perpetuate these fruits of wickedness. In fact, I believe those institutions in Jena have lead the way in correcting the imbalances caused by racism concerning equal rights for all. Opportunities exist for all people of all races in our community under the law. Personally, I have not found the local courts to be biased in judgment nor the school system to prevent advancement from anyone based on race. However, you cannot change the heart of anyone through legislation; education alone will not undo bigotry or hatred instilled from birth. Unless we deal with the spirit of our people, we will never learn the grace and mercy of God towards those less fortunate in life...

And then copy the quote taken from the linked Chicago Daily Herald article (one question arises, if the author of the Chicago Daily Herald article was publishing online, why not link directly to the online article quoted?)

I’ve lived here most of my life, and the one thing I can state with absolutely no fear of contradiction is that LaSalle Parish is awash in racism: True racism.

Thompson, obviously a conservative minister (who I would probably agree with on very little, but I commend how he handled this situation) then goes on to describe how he attended a healing meeting for the town in another article The Battle Against Racism in Jena Hijacked) and writes in part,

What an amazing sight it was! There was the United Pentecostal preacher standing with the Baptist pastor, seeking the hand of God for our children. There was the black minister lifting his voice with the white minister to sing praises to our King. The principal of Jena High School was thrilled to see us there on his campus, politically correct or not, calling on the Name of Jesus for mercy and for grace. The Superintendent of Schools caught the spirit and preached like a Bible-thumping evangelist from a rickety pulpit. The “congregation” of our city gathered together in one accord to fight the spiritual wickedness that has bound us for so long. Perhaps the most touching moment of all was when the students, black and white, suddenly joined together on the football field and sang the alma mater hand in hand, special emphasis given to the line that states, "God keep safe thy fame." All convention was set aside for the higher purpose of finding answers. We called on our Savior to set the captives, all of us, free. In all my years I never saw it such in Jena, Louisiana.

I hope that the citizens of this town solve their problem together. However, a little media spotlight, showing whether they are successful or not, won't hurt.

Because there is still racism in America, and what the citizens of Jena now (finally) appear to be doing (though we will see how this turns out).

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