The Blog

There's No Race Problem in Jena?

A punishment should always fit the crime, and the charge of attempted murder fits the Jena 6 the way a dress from Lane Bryant would fit Kate Moss.
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The plight of the Jena 6 and Mychal Bell in particular was all over the news last week, with Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and thousands of other black activists marching on that tiny Louisiana town. But why are they there? There's no race problem in Jena. Just ask town librarian Barbara Murphy:

"We don't have a race problem. It's not black against white - it's crime. The nooses? I don't even know why they were there... what they were supposed to mean. There's pranks all the time of one type or another goin' on, and um... it just didn't seem to be racist to me."

Three nooses were hung after a black student ASKED PERMISSION to sit under "the white tree" and there's no race problem in Jena? It was just a prank? Of course! Nooses are known the world over as being friendly symbols of jest. Why, I saw this rug at Urban Outfitters just the other day:

It was on the clearance rack.

The scary part is, Barbara Murphy is not alone in her ivory tower of racial harmony. District Attorney Reed Walters swears up and down that race is not an issue in the case of Mychal Bell. As reported by NPR and the Associated Press, he feels the real problem is that no one is paying attention to the white assault victim, Justin Barker, saying, "With all the emphasis on the defendant, the injury done to him (Barker) and the serious threat to his existence has become a footnote."

Serious threat to his existence? He attended a ceremony at school the same night he was attacked! Mychal Bell was charged with aggravated second-degree battery, which requires the use of a deadly weapon, that weapon of course being his sneaker. I've lived in New York for 7 years, and I've smelled some pretty nasty foot funk in that time, but I've never, ever been held up by a Nike. Mychal Bell was a 16-year-old boy tried as an adult and convicted by an all-white jury. Though his conviction was overturned, he's still in jail and being relentlessly pursued by Reed Walters. "No Justice, No Peace" seems to be the slogan on both sides of this abysmal dispute that centers on the fate of black Americans.

"This case has been portrayed by the news media as being about race," Walters said. "And the fact that it takes place in a small southern town lends itself to that portrayal. But it is not and never has been about race. It is about finding justice for an innocent victim and holding people accountable for their actions.... I cannot overemphasize what a villainous act that was. The people that did it should be ashamed of what they unleashed on this town."

Just what have they unleashed, Mr. Walters? A balance of power? According to information collected in 2005 by the US Census Bureau, the state of Louisiana is 64% white and 33% black. There are 41 District Attorneys in the state, 35 of whom I found photographs of online. Take a look at the results:

Notice anything odd? Like the fact that there's only ONE black District Attorney pictured here? (Not to mention the fact that even Camille A. "Cam" Morvant, despite my hopes he was a she, is a white guy. Don't get me started, gurl!) Eddie J. Jordan, Jr., the black man in question (because apparently down South black men are always in question) represents Orleans Parish, and is, interestingly enough, listed last on the Louisiana District Attorneys Association website. (Move to the front of the bus, Eddie!) Orleans Parish is home of the city of New Orleans, where the black people used to live before Hurricane FEMA.

In search of fairness, let's presume the 6 DA's not pictured here ARE black. Even still, that's 7 out of 41, equaling 17%. Yet 33% of Louisiana residents are black, so is it any wonder black people are being treated unfairly by the justice system? And that's me being very generous in my presumption that all 6 missing DA's are black when in my heart I doubt a single one of them is.

Now, this is not to say that a white man cannot give a black man a fair trial. (I mean, we've all seen To Kill a Mockingbird. Heck, some of us have even read it!) But still, I smell something fishy. Oh wait, that's not fish. It's institutionalized racism, which smells way worse.

Even the white man all the way at the top, George W. Bush, has voiced his opinion on what's, you know, going on in Jena. "The events in Louisiana have saddened me, and I understand the emotions," he said. "The Justice Department and the FBI are monitoring the situation down there. And all of us in America want there to be, you know, fairness when it comes to justice." You know. Fairness. That's why I sent the FBI to monitor the, you know, blacks (slaves). Because I want to make sure they don't, you know, riot (revolt). I'd hate to have the white folks down there experience injustice. After all, what did they do?...

Before anyone comments that my bleeding heart thinks it's okay for a black boy to beat up a white kid, I don't. I hate violence. But a punishment should always fit the crime, and the charge of Attempted Murder fits the Jena 6 the way a dress from Lane Bryant would fit Kate Moss.

When I was touring a show in Alabama a few years ago, I met a convict just about to be released from jail who told me, "Black men come to Alabama on vacation and leave on probation." I'll never forget that, and not just because it rhymes. But because sadly, in this day and age, and in the case of the Jena 6, that type of blanket statement still holds true.