Sunday, September 23, 2007

Notes on the Jena-6

By Eliott C. McLaughlinCNN



JENA, Louisiana (CNN) -- The convoy of buses pulled onto the shoulder Thursday morning, about 25 miles from Jena. Niele Anderson, the Los Angeles DJ and newspaper editor who made last-minute arrangements to get me on the bus, motioned to follow her, "C'mon, let's get out."

JoAnna Scales took her kids out of school to make the trip from Los Angeles, California, to Jena, Louisiana.

Passengers trickled out of the dozen buses in front of us and also from the line of buses that stretched over the hill behind us.

Word that the police weren't letting us proceed to Jena came through the grapevine a couple of minutes before the friendly Louisiana trooper ambled over.

"The town is locked up," said the officer, E.E. Andrus. "We can't get 'em into town. People don't realize Jena's about as big as from here to that hill over there," he said, pointing to the buses disappearing over the highway horizon a half-mile away.

The protesters pleaded to let us pass, but the officer explained it wasn't going to happen: "I'm taking 'em right now. I'm sending an escort with 'em -- five buses every 12 minutes and that's the best we can do. Otherwise, we're gonna sit there."

The crowd was disappointed, but remained calm despite the news that we were now projected to reach Jena well after the rallies and marches began. Watch protesters stalled 25 miles out of Jena »

Anderson told me she was going to encourage everyone to get off the buses lining the highway. Why? "We're gonna walk to Jena," she said.

People began congregating on U.S. Highway 165. Some of them brought their "Free Jena Six" signs. Many wore T-shirts proclaiming the same. Confused commuters peered at us as they crept through the crowd.

Reluctantly, I hopped back on the bus to grab my equipment, two bags weighing about 50 pounds -- not to mention the notebooks and camcorder jammed in the cargo pockets of my shorts.

When I got off the bus, Anderson said never mind. The police were now saying we would be allowed through. Had they found a new route? Or more room for buses in Jena? "It's 'cuz the CNN man's with us," said one protester. I quickly denied it. No one explained the turn of events, but I have to admit, I was pleased we weren't about to hike 25 miles.

At that point, I had been on the bus about two hours -- nothing to complain about when you consider that Anderson and more than 100 fellow protesters had been on a pair of buses for two days.

That they took such a journey -- and that they were ready to hoof it when that journey was cut short -- is testament to the passion and empathy the plight of the Jena 6 ignites.

JoAnna Scales is a 39-year-old mother of three who took her three teenagers out of school for four days to make the trip from Los Angeles, California, to Jena and back. She said a few days in tight quarters is nothing compared with the decades behind bars that she thinks the Jena 6 are unjustly facing.

"It's been trying, but one love," she said of the bus trip. "You gotta work it out because if this could happen to [the Jena 6], it could happen to anyone."

It was a common refrain Thursday. After arriving at 4 a.m. in Alexandria, Louisiana, at the Alexandria Coliseum, where hundreds of people sleepily met about 30 buses for the hourlong ride to Jena, I met students and lawyers, grandmothers, mothers, fathers and aunts -- even members of motorcycle groups. They all said they couldn't bear to turn a blind eye to what they said is a bastard brand of justice.

It's not that the young black men were justified in the December beating and stomping of their white classmate, not at all. It's that five of the Jena 6 were charged as adults, the attempted murder allegations were excessive and the bonds were set higher than the price of most homes in Jena, the protesters said.

Also, they said, too little was made of the nooses hung from the "white tree" at Jena High School last September. Had that matter been handled appropriately, nothing would've gotten out of hand, said some.

Emily Calloway, on the bus from Los Angeles, said she thinks it's a racist area, regardless of the nooses, and she thinks the police were being racist when they stopped the buses on Highway 165. Pressing on to Jena, she said, will "make an effective statement to the authorities and to the judge" in the Jena 6 case.

"I think that it was a tactic to humiliate the effort and to humiliate the cause," she said of the temporary roadblock. "I think it's an outrageous travesty of justice and further act of discrimination and racism."

Cathryn Shabazz, sitting across the aisle from Calloway, agreed the stop was suspicious, but said she thinks the problem is larger than central Louisiana, and that's why she got on the bus.

"You can go north, south, east or west," she said, "and find the same degree of racism." E-mail to a friend

6 comments:

Brad Brown said...

I have never found myself to be particularly sensitive to race issues, after being constantly educated about it in school for pretty much a decade on the matter, I definitely get the point, and I believe with all of my heart that racism is wrong in just about every way. This is why, I think, I am always in disbelief about modern cases of racism, because I assume that pretty much everybody would be on the same page as me these days, especially since I come from a backwater community out of eastern Kentucky, you would think others are at least a little bit more socially progressive than I would be.

I don’t profess to be an expert on the Jena 6 case, correct me if I am wrong; the controversy here is that the punishment imposed upon the Jena 6 is too strong, and disproportionate to the crime, correct? Not that indeed they should be punished or not, my answer there is that yes certainly they should be punished, and hopefully that is the consensus. While I don’t personally believe the punishment for beating someone’s face in should be different for a 14 year old (As is with the assaulter Mychel Bell) as it is for a 17 year old (Louisiana’s age to be tried as an adult), there should NOT be an exception to that age rule in this particular case. The Age 17 rule is a law, and needs to be the case for all trials across the board. It looks mighty convincing that this particular exclusion to that rule is motivated by racism, however, I am not going to say that it was, because I don’t know. However, the demonstrations going on are a healthy reaction; it serves to show the nation that racism is still very much a potential issue and it shows the town of Jena, where apparently a lot of racists reside, that racism is not the way to go.

Brad Brown said...

I have never found myself to be particularly sensitive to race issues, after being constantly educated about it in school for pretty much a decade on the matter, I definitely get the point, and I believe with all of my heart that racism is wrong in just about every way. This is why, I think, I am always in disbelief about modern cases of racism, because I assume that pretty much everybody would be on the same page as me these days, especially since I come from a backwater community out of eastern Kentucky, you would think others are at least a little bit more socially progressive than I would be.

I don’t profess to be an expert on the Jena 6 case, correct me if I am wrong; the controversy here is that the punishment imposed upon the Jena 6 is too strong, and disproportionate to the crime, correct? Not that indeed they should be punished or not, my answer there is that yes certainly they should be punished, and hopefully that is the consensus. While I don’t personally believe the punishment for beating someone’s face in should be different for a 14 year old (As is with the assaulter Mychel Bell) as it is for a 17 year old (Louisiana’s age to be tried as an adult), there should NOT be an exception to that age rule in this particular case. The Age 17 rule is a law, and needs to be the case for all trials across the board. It looks mighty convincing that this particular exclusion to that rule is motivated by racism, however, I am not going to say that it was, because I don’t know. However, the demonstrations going on are a healthy reaction; it serves to show the nation that racism is still very much a potential issue and it shows the town of Jena, where apparently a lot of racists reside, that racism is not the way to go.

Wolfgang Amadeus said...

Racism is a tricky issue and this case seems very intresting but still very curious. The problem is even if the charge of attempted murder is harsh any group of individuals beating and stomping a any other individual is wrong. If a group of white students would of beat and stomped an African American student would the charge still be considered to harsh?

As Martin Luther king said in Letter From Birmingham Jail "One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willness to accept the penalty." What was done may or may not been just but regardless the punishment fits the crime. King also says "Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber." so would it be any more right to allow the students to go free? Would the punishment made lighter been more acceptable? The question is would a lighter punishment told a group of individuals not to beat someone?

John said...

Notes on the Jena-6

“It's not that the young black men were justified in the December beating and stomping of their white classmate, not at all. It's that five of the Jena 6 were charged as adults, the attempted murder allegations were excessive and the bonds were set higher than the price of most homes in Jena, the protesters said.”

William Bennett once said “The way to achieve a color-blind society is to actually be a color-blind society, in law and in spirit. The way to get beyond treating people as if race makes a difference is actually to treat them as if race does not make a difference”

Well said Bennett, as addressed on the first paragraph it had nothing to do with the offense it all had to do with race and the mare inability to treat African-Americans as equals. The town of Jena had two types of law one for the whites and one for the blacks. The mere action of the people, police and law enforcers of that town tell us the story; there was inequality and bias towards their black populace. The “nooses” and the infamous “white tree” incidents escalated the already frail ethnic psyche of that small community; opening old deep wounds of oppression and discrimination.

I lean to agree with Emily Calloway, the way the busses where stalled in that highway delaying and I feel trying to discourage the protestors from going further into Jena; giving thoughts of a system completely immerse in racial discrimination, trying to suffocate the crisis at hand. I further be of the same opinion with Cathryn Shabazz, she see’s the bigger picture, is not the unfairness act of a small town in Central Louisiana, but the disregard for human and civil rights and leaderships at a higher levels and their failure from stepping-up to the plate. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?"

It is shameful that these types of actions are still happening in this day and era.

Bryant said...

Jena-6 case itself shouldn't be as controversial as it occurred. As a person with a degree in Criminal Justice, it is perfectly legal to justifiably try some juveniles as adults. In this case, six people attacked one, therefore, there is reason to believe there was an attempt to murder, or volunteer manslaughter since there was a mens reas (state of Mind) and an actus reas (Act) involved in this crime. These are two things prosecutors look for when determining punishment for the crime. Had there only been two students, or even one student, instead of six, then they would've been tried as juveniles from the start.

But the real controversy in my opinion, wasn't necessarily the case, but rather the stalling of protestors. John Stuart Mill would definitely not be in favor of stalling the protestors. John Stuart Mill was all about Defending Freedoms and the freedom of speech would be considered one of those freedoms Mill would defend. If Jena had attempted to discourage the protestors, then that would be ruled unjust according to Mill. If our society tends to discourage protestors, then our society will inevitably stall our abilities to promote ideas. This was what the article was about, and I agree with it in the sense that it was unjust to stall the protestors.

Aaron said...

Racism I believe is a branch of the real issue we face...equality. We all like to believe that everyone is equal and will always be treated in such a way but this simply is not the case. Unfortunately our world will never reach this idea of equality without Bennetts Idea of color blindness. Its the only way. But to achieve a color blind society we first need to come to a greater level of understanding between not only races, but sex, culture, nationality, etc...Understanding one another is the key.
This case of the Jena 6 further demonstrates our lack of understanding and inability to see each other as truly equal.