September 19, 2007

Jim Crow lives on in Jena, and in America


By David A. Love
Published by Progressive Media Project and McClatchy-Tribune News Service
August 2007

Racism and Jim Crow are alive and well in America. The recent conviction of a black teenager, and the indictment of five others in Jena proves that.

It all started when a black student sought permission from school administrators to sit under the "white tree," a tree at the high school where white students normally gathered. School officials told him to sit where he liked. So, on Aug. 31, 2006, some black students decided to sit under it.

The next day, three white students hung three nooses from the tree, prompting a protest under the tree by the school's black students. Later that day, LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters, accompanied by police, told the black students they were making too much of the "prank."

"I can be your best friend or your worst enemy," Walters reportedly told the students. "I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen."

The school principal had recommended expulsion for the white students who hung the nooses, but the superintendent of schools overruled his decision and gave the white students only three-day suspensions.

Racial tensions heated up, and one of the black students, Robert Bailey Jr., was beaten by a white teen for attending an all-white off-campus party that Bailey reportedly was invited to.

The next day, according to news reports, a young white man pulled a shotgun on Bailey and his two friends at a convenience store.

Two days later, a group of white students, including those who hung the nooses, taunted Bailey and others, and called them n------. Intimidation and name-calling by white students allegedly continued at the school.

Later that day, on Dec. 4, 2006, a white male reportedly brought a gun on school property, and when students wrestled it away and held him for police, the students were charged and the gunman was merely fined.

In June, after deliberating for less than three hours, an all-white, six-person jury found one of the black students, Mychal Bell, 17, guilty of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery for the Dec. 4 incident. He faces up to 22 years in prison when he is sentenced on Sept. 20.

Five other black students still await trial with more serious charges. The six boys, who were expelled from school, originally faced attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit attempted second-degree murder. Their bail ranged from $70,000 to $138,000, sums that their families could not afford. The real crime the Jena Six committed, however, was challenging racial segregation in their town, and having the audacity to sit under a tree reserved for white students at Jena High School.

The tree was recently cut down, but the racial wounds in Jena — and the nation — still fester.

Today, we still have a separate and unequal justice system. Blacks face disproportionately high prosecution rates and prison sentences.

Sadly, white America is in denial about the persistence of racial intolerance.

The plight of the Jena Six should awaken us all to the racism that still infects this country.

Copyright © 2007 by David A. Love

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