Jena for cave people…and the empire strikes back

jenamarch.jpg If you’ve followed S&R at all you know that we’re concerned about the Jena case and have been since I began writing about it. The MSM and other bloggers finally caught on, but S&R was railing about the injustice as early as June.

As more and more attention has been cast on the town and its somewhat retro approach to race and justice, we’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon. Whether in the form of concerted attacks by people we’re trying hard not to accuse of racism or simply through the innocent failure of the well-intended to grok the real core issues, there has been a cynical and disturbing reframing of the story.

To wit: all too many people are trying to pretend that the case is about – or ought to be exclusively about – whether or not the black defendants are guilty of a particular set of crimes.

This campaign has fostered a good measure of silliness. Are the Jena 6 guilty of breaking the law? Maybe – there appears to be evidence suggesting so. But this is not, and never has been, the question. The real issue, the one that so many people don’t seem to want us to look at or talk about, is the context in which these events took place. It’s not about what the Jena 6 did, it’s about why the local “justice” system seems unconcerned about the actions of certain whites and why in 2007 a town has a legal system that, like water fountains in the 1950s, tolerates separate standards for whites and coloreds.

So, in an attempt to clarify the issue and dismiss all the misconceptions running loose out there, we have pulled together a brief primer that we hope will allow us to all focus on the real issues here.

The Cave Person’s Guide to Jena – brought to you by S&R

In Jena, a beating that leaves the victim bruised is attempted second-degree murder, but assault with a shotgun isn’t a crime at all.

In Jena, an all white jury is considered a “jury of peers” for black defendants. There is no record that all-black juries are seated to hear cases against white defendants.

In Jena, vandalizing a black church’s sign isn’t racist, but demands for equal treatment are.

In Jena, calling for equal treatment of black defendants is “reverse racism” to, but it’s no big deal when a white school board overrules a principal who recommends expulsion for white “pranksters” who hang nooses over a tree to intimidate black students.

In Jena, a sneaker is a deadly weapon but a coke bottle isn’t.

In Jena, you only get a short suspension if you threaten lynching by hanging nooses from a tree, but God help you if you wear a “Free the Jena 6” T-shirt.

In Jena, beating up your fellow blacks gets you into juvenile courts on assault and battery charges, but beating up whites gets you charged with attempted second-degree murder.

In Jena, Jesus supports the DA and his white friends, who have taken over the courtroom for a public prayer rally for the cameras, but he doesn’t support the black Christians outside.

The Empire Strikes Back

And now we get this.

Christian Science Monitor’s attempt to “debunk” the “media myths” about Jena (I’m using lots of quotation marks because I want to draw your attention to CSM – a conservative right wing media outlet – positioning itself as somehow not part of the “media.”) is but the latest attempt to redefine the issues in Jena. The sources of all this “truth” about the events in Jena?

A white journalist for the hometown newspaper whose white wife is a teacher at Jena High School.

Jarred by the use of the word “white”? Think it smacks of racism and bias?

Think about your reaction if the word were “black” and get back to me.

See how simple it really is?

33 replies »

  1. “the local “justice” system seems unconcerned”

    “Seems” is the right word since no one on either side of this issue offers any hard evidence one way or the other. All evidence offered so far from either side has been circumstantial and flimsily circumstantial at that. Until the cases actually get to trial and are decided, both sides are simply speculating on a variety of contradictory “facts”.

    As for the shotgun, uninvolved witnesses told police that Bailey and his two friends attacked Matt Windham and chased him to his truck, and only then did he pull out the shotgun. We will have to wait to hear the jury’s verdict.

  2. Jim:

    I applaud your coverage of the Jena case. LIke you, I believe that the most likely explanation for what is going on in Jena is that there are two standards for white and black justice. This town voted for David Duke, after all, and the charges seem way out of line for what actually happened.

    I expected a backlash. That’s the way it always is, if for no other reason than the natural desire for journalists to find a new angle when the old one gets stale.

    I just can’t agree with you about the Christian Science Monitor. I’ve been a subscriber for many, many years now, and the only issue that seems, to me, to bring out CSM’s bias has to do with whether a person or parents of a child can forego modern medical treatment. That makes sense, of course, given Christian Science dogma.

    Other than that, it seems to me that CSM is the print version of National Public Radio. In an age where the news magazines no longer print news, CSM carries in-depth stories from corner of the world I would never hear about, otherwise. (BTW, please note that this was an opinion piece CSM printed, not a hard news article.)

    Finally, it’s a bit hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, here, and it’s high time someone did. What events actually transpired? Are there police reports available to the public? Where are they? What do witnesses say? How reliable/credible are the witnesses?

    Until we can all find out what actually transpired, from credible witnesses (and I really mean “credible”), the degree of bias in this case is hard to determine.

  3. Jim:

    You could hear it from a burning bush and transcribe it directly onto a stone tablet: some people will not understand because they choose not to.

    But bravo all the same.

  4. Elaine:

    I appreciate the posts, but this last one lost credibility with me when I saw the assertion that the federal DA said: “No hate crime was committed.” I SAW an interview with him, and heard from his own lips that he was unable to tie the nooses to the final crime in a manner that he felt would give him a good chance of winning in court. That is not the same as “no hate crime was committed.”

  5. Two brief responses:

    Elaine: World Net Daily is a highly dubious media source. It’s a tabloid. Just saying…

    JS: I used to think of CSM as more open minded – but I’ve seen that mind gradually closing. Don’t know what any corporate connections/pressures might have to do with that. Just saying…

    Again, the issue isn’t guilt/innocence – it’s different justice systems for different races….

  6. For the record, here’s the quote from Donald Washington, the US Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, from the Oct. 16 House Judiciary Committee hearing.

    “Yes, hanging a noose under these circumstances is a hate crime. If these acts had been committed by others who were not juveniles, this would have been a federal hate crime, and we would have moved forward.”

    There’s a webcast on the House Judiciary Committee site, if anyone’s interested.

  7. “Elaine: World Net Daily is a highly dubious media source. It’s a tabloid. Just saying…”

    Thank you. I shall take that on board.

    “Again, the issue isn’t guilt/innocence – it’s different justice systems for different races….”

    I understand what your point has been all along. My point, however, is that you decided this was the case at the start and ever since have written, pointed to and analysed in a manner which comes across as subjective and supportive of this theory.

    If you start with the belief system that racial bias was at play in this town then you start with a prejudice about a group of people that is no better than stereotyping any other group.

    When you start making a patchwork quilt you can end up with a lovely design though.

    My POINT is that you have not proved to me that two systems of justice are in operation (although I have NO DOUBT whatsoever that people are guilty the world over of bias, prejudice, double standards and terrible *thinking*).

    I have more faith in the FBI and Washington (the man) than that.

    Further if the system in operation was found to be acting appropriately then why are you so hell bent on disbelieving Washington?

    Do you suspect him of kow towing to whitey? Do you think him afraid? Do you think him dishonest, unintelligent?

    You obviously do not agree with his findings. Do you want another investigation? Would you accept those findings? Or is your belief in a travesty of justice here such that no outcome other than Free the Jena 6 will do?

    Jena Town is racist ergo Bell walks…

    …that is not law and order at work. That is just downright frightening.

    There is no comparison between hanging a noose and attacking someone.

    To attack someone because you de

  8. …chopped off.

    To attack someone because he is white is a terrible hate crime. Deserving of particular punishment particularly when set against Bell’s background.

    Bell is no warrior for justice or freedom fighter. However, the focus has been totally on Free the Jena 6.

    From my perspective the focus should be on the other so called crimes which have been investigated already…

  9. “Elaine:

    I appreciate the posts, but this last one lost credibility with me when I saw the assertion that the federal DA said: “No hate crime was committed.” I SAW an interview with him, and heard from his own lips that he was unable to tie the nooses to the final crime in a manner that he felt would give him a good chance of winning in court. That is not the same as “no hate crime was committed.””

    Appreciated but could you point to some hosting website that has a transcript or a video of this.

  10. Elaine:

    I’m not at liberty to spend the time looking for the interview I saw with Washington, but it was also on CNN (I think) and was aired as part of a one-hour special on the day of the march.

    What Washington says in this video you posted is roughly the same as what I saw in the other one. There was a lot of waffling in that interview, too, though he DID say in the first one that charging the kids with attempted murder is probably not the decision he would have made.

    I don’t know how much you know about US politics and/or the US judicial system, but it doesn’t appear to be all that much. You say you have trust in the FBI, yet this is not an FBI matter. This is a Louisiana matter. As for Washington, he is a political appointee, a Republican, operating in a strongly Republican (except on the local Dixiecrat level) state. His career depends on the continuing goodwill of Republicans. Already, there are allegations that the Justice Department has been used by the Republican Administration as a tool to attack political enemies.

    You are correct that some of us, here, are viewing what is happening in Jena in context of what we know, from experience, about Southern justice. You seem to be implying that one should not view events in context but, instead, take every event in the world as though there is no context. I submit that this leaves us gullible and vulnerable to the most egregiously ridiculous arguments, such as “The German people attacked Poland in response to a Polish incursion onto German territory.” In the context of what was known about Hitler at the time, it would have been ridiculous to believe that statement.

    But there were people who believed him.

  11. Elaine, I listed at least one direct source for Donald Washington’s statements. See my response above. You’ll need RealPlayer to view the hearing.

  12. Ann:

    Thank you will watch.

    JS: Amazing how some commentators will with the strike of the keyboard attempt to take away the good name, strength of character and real knowledge of public servants and substitute their own VIEWS as fact.

    Oh those nasty Republicans…

  13. JS:

    Huh what? I’m lost.

    I tried to post a link to the House Judiciary Committee website, where they have webcasts of hearings, including one on the Jena 6 with Donald Washington. That response didn’t come through, so I posted again, since Elaine said she wanted something she could see for herself. I don’t know if it’s the same interview you saw, but he says the same thing you heard – that the nooses did constitute a hate crime. His rationale for not prosecuting appears to have been the age of the offenders.

  14. Elaine:

    May I gently suggest that when you post a quote that says, “The national media has not mentioned a single time that there was an FBI investigation into the hanging of the nooses and the conduct of Reed Walters that concluded there was no criminal activity or “hate crime” involved,” you check it out, first. Here is what CNN has to say (and that’s just one instance quickly found on google):

    “Washington said FBI agents who went to Jena in September to investigate the noose report, and other federal officials who examined what happened, concluded it “had all the markings of a hate crime.”

    Now, to me, this sounds like there was a “hate crime,” but that the fact that the kids were underage meant they couldn’t be prosecutred. In other words, it’s a technicality.

    “The incident wasn’t prosecuted as such because it didn’t meet the federal standards required for the teens to be certified as adults, Washington said. A court makes the final decision on whether to drop their juvenile status.

    While critics contend the nooses and the beating are two sides of the same problem, U.S. Attorney Washington said a direct link would be hard to prove.

    There was “no connection that a prosecutor could take into court and say, ‘You know, judge or jury, we’re prosecuting these white kids for these nooses, and look at all the damage they caused downstream, all the way down to the fight at Jena High School on December 4,'” he told CNN’s Kyra Phillips on Tuesday.

    So, what Washington is saying is not that there was no effect, but that he couldn’t prove it.

    “Justice Department attorney Lisa Krigsten, who also testified before the committee, countered that the DOJ had actually dispatched a representative to talk to school officials, as well an FBI agent to investigate, in August 2006.

    Krigsten said that although it was “undeniable” that noose hanging constituted a “”a symbol of hate and racial violence,” the federal investigation found it wasn’t appropriate — due to the ages of those involved — to bring charges.”

  15. Anne:

    “Huh what? I’m lost.”

    You seem to be objecting to something I said, and I don’t understand why. Could you elaborate, please?

  16. JS:

    I don’t see where… it could just be the tangle of my attempts to post that link. My second try was held for approval, so it showed up late. I wanted Elaine to see for herself that Washington (the man, not the government) had admitted that the nooses constituted a hate crime, then offered up an excuse for not prosecuting. Isn’t that what you were saying?

    Perhaps I shouldn’t attempt to post and work at the same time.

  17. Ann:

    Thanks. Because it was posted right after mine, I thought it was a reaction to what I was posting. Now I’m glad I didn’t unload on you 😉

  18. Good all round. I’m battling an uppity pediatric neurologist on the phone, plus I just washed a paintbrush in my Diet Coke, so I’ve got about one thin nerve left for the day…

  19. Oh, here’s the problem! I misread Elaine’s post as being Ann’s post. Silly me. Elaine, here’s your post:

    “JS: Amazing how some commentators will with the strike of the keyboard attempt to take away the good name, strength of character and real knowledge of public servants and substitute their own VIEWS as fact.

    Oh those nasty Republicans”

    Note that I did nothing to impugn anyone’s reputation, not that it should matter to any public figure. Nor have I said anything to imply that any view of mine is fact. On the contrary, I’ve been very careful not to do that.

    I was simply pointing out that the blind, and naive, trust you seem to have in Mr. Washington could be misplaced. But don’t take my word for what the current Administration has done to the Justice Department. Take what Richard Thornburgh, a former Republican Attorney General has to say, as well as Donald Shields, a professor at the University of Missouri who has done a statistical analysis of prosecution patterns in the current Justice Department.

    Thornburgh says that his client, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, was unfairly prosecuted by the Justice Department after getting pressure from Karl Rove. Shields says that the Justice Department has prosecuted 5.6 local Democratic officials for every one Republican. He goes on to say that the probability of that happening without bias towards prosecuting Democrats, is less than 1 in 10,000.

    Of course, we’re getting far afield here. This is relevant only in the context of how much trust one can put in the Justice Department, these days. I’d say it’s very, very little.

  20. What a circus in the House Judiciary Committee…or worse still the beginnings of a witch hunt. How many are looking under their beds now…?

    Washington composed himself with dignity and self respect whilst the younger political race hustler with a somewhat dubious reputation bullied, ranted, interrupted and refused to let the older man speak.


  21. Elaine:

    If you wish to make arguments based on data, I’m your Huckleberry. If you want to simply make unsupported rants about “witch hunts,” I can find far more interesting people with which to converse.

  22. JS: As can I.

    Unfortunately, you addressed me in the first instance so I was being polite in acknowledging you. Damm I really must remember not to talk to strangers…

    I’ll go back to skimming over what you usually write because the way you comment leaves a lot to be desired…judging by your habit of trolling and baiting.

    Meanwhile I will carry on reading the interesting posts rather than be sidetracked by someone who seeks to argue and bait as opposed to having the tools at his disposal to discuss properly.

    Night Night.

  23. Okay, THAT I have to comment on. Elaine, you don’t have to agree with things, regardless of the facts. But accusing JSO of TROLLING and BAITING is ludicrous. He knows a good bit about race and politics in the South because he grew up in the middle of it, and he hasn’t said a word that wasn’t extremely well supported.

    Your position on Jena has baffled me to no end, as has your abject lack of interest in the insights of people who know Southern race politics from the inside. Frankly, I’d expect a little credibility to attach to that experience. But whatever.

    Debate all you like, but come on, let’s at least keep the snark reality-based, huh?

  24. Ditto. To quote James Boswell:

    “I have found you an argument. I am not obliged to find you an understanding.”

  25. OK so he is not trolling and baiting…

    I am not surprised you are baffled though Sam because I do not have a “position”. I am not swayed one way or another by opinions.

    I am simply saying, yet again, that it has not been proven to me (thus far) that there are racist motivations behind the DA’s handling of certain cases that came before him in Jena.

    Of course I am interested in the insights of Southerners. Politics, however, is something of a gooey mess…

    Washington I have time for because I have read the transcripts and his words resonate.

    If he and others find there was bias that is when it is case proven…for me. Until then the jury is out.

  26. Drs. Denny and Slammy:

    Thanks. If I ever troll and bait, or lose my temper more than the normal sort of edginess that sometimes creeps into my prose, I hope you’ll quickly let me know that I have stepped over the line.