Friday, September 21, 2007

Jena 6 protest march

Yesterday was a perfect day to have the protest march in Jena, LA. It was International Peace Day! How appropriate.

I've been reading different reports on the march. Estimates on the size of the crowd range from 10,000 all the way up to 50,000. The residents of Jena pretty much closed up shop for the day. Businesses and government entities were closed. Some people were worried enough to board up their windows against possible vandalism. From what I read, though, they didn't have to worry. The marchers remained peaceful. I wish I would have been there!

I've always had a passion for social justice, and this whole case has just caught my attention in a way that I can't even explain. I don't understand how some people can think there's nothing wrong here. What attitudes of ours contribute to this? I don't have answers. I just have questions.

I keep reading comments from (white) people who live in Jena who don't see any problem or admit that anything is wrong with what has happened. Okay, the whole entire country can see the scales of justice are out of balance. No one is saying (or at least I'm not) that the Jena 6 should not face consequences. It's just that their consequences are so severe, and the white students who did similar things face no consequences whatsoever. What part do you think we're missing, people?

Here are a few news stories from which I wanted to share excerpts. This is from the Edmonton Journal:

They gathered in lawn chairs at the outer edges of the Jena Six rally, a half-dozen white residents of this tiny Louisiana town, surrounded by thousands of demonstrators pointing the finger of racism in their direction.

It was all too much for Ricky Coleman.

"We are not a racist people," said Coleman, the owner of a local pizza joint. "The whole thing has been blown out of proportion."

...Even if the charges against the black students were excessive, Jena residents like Coleman say it is unfair to cast the entire white population in town as anti-black. "We all get along," he said. "The blacks around here, some of the blacks, are some of my best friends."

But the mother of one of the Jena Six defendants said she believes the town has been forever changed.

"Nobody has taken our side. The only white people who have are from out of town," said Tina Jones, the mother of 18-year-old Bryant Purvis, the only defendant still facing attempted murder charges. "I don't know if it's racism. But blacks and whites are not treated equal. That's what I call it."

One of my favorite quotes was this one from the New York Times:

[One person who came for the march]...said she could not understand why the students who hung the nooses were not punished severely. The students were only briefly suspended. District Attorney J. Reed Walters said Wednesday that the action did not appear to violate any state laws.

...A marcher, Latese Brown, 40, of Alexandria, said, “If you can figure out how to make a school yard fight into an attempted murder charge, I’m sure you can figure out how to make stringing nooses into a hate crime.”

Well put.

One more quote, if you would indulge me, is from the Toronto Star:

Jena finds itself divided sharply over precisely what the case says about their town and themselves.

"Every year at Jena High School there's a black-and-white fight," said Casa Compton, 26, a Jena native, who is African-American. "It's always been tense. There's always been prejudice and bigotry here. Every day they're throwing away a black man's life down here."

Tina Norris, 45, said she was amazed at the kind of publicity her town is receiving. "They make it sound like the whole town of Jena is just one big KKK rally," said Norris, who is white. "It isn't. We don't have a lot of problems here. This is just a small town."

You never see a quote from a white person from Jena who admits that anything is wrong with the situation, specifically, or even in general. One white woman commented that if people would just come to the town, and even go to a football game, they would see that things are fine and that people get along. What does that have to do with unequal justice? And why aren't we hearing that from people of color in that community? A white person in that town (or any other town), is not going to experience the injustice, the racism, from the same perspective. Of course things seem fine. But underneath that deceptively smooth surface there are turbulent waters roiling.

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