Jena's Mayor Thanks White Supremacists for Their "Moral Support"
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This post, written by Laura Flanders, originally appeared on The Nation
"Jena is America," says Alan Bean, speaking of the Louisiana town where six black students are looking at decades in jail for a schoolyard brawl while white kids are facing nothing for hanging up nooses. Jena is America in the sense that the unequal justice there is not unique. There are "Jena Sixes" behind bars in every state. But it isn't America in the sense that the country as a whole has had no trouble at all ignoring Jena.
Bean is a Baptist minister from Texas who formed Friends of Justice in response to the now infamous Tulia drug sting of 1999 in which over half of Tulia's black males were convicted on the uncorroborated word of a corrupt and racist undercover cop. He was instrumental in getting that story out. In January he got busy in Jena. By that time, a young white man had already been beaten up and six young black students had been indicted, originally on attempted murder charges. One of the six, Mychal Bell, was legally still a juvenile when he was convicted of attempted second-degree murder with a deadly shoe. While the six were paroled, Bell's been incarcerated ever since.
"If the media wasn't watching what was going on then every last one of those kids would be in jail," one of the Jena mothers, Tina Jones, told the Nation's Gary Younge. Jones is generous. The truth is, "the media" haven't been watching. Black radio has been listening, and the black blogosphere's been buzzing, but the white "mainstream" and the white liberal media woke up to this story about a minute ago.
By every account I've heard, the people who had sufficient fire in their belly to wake up before dawn and bus their way into Jena September 20 were African American -- around 90 percent. Probably close to that same percentage had a story to tell about a family member or neighbor who's been touched by the criminal injustice system. "White liberals care, but they just don't feel it in anything like the same way," says Bean. "There's a massive experience gap."
James Rucker of the action-alert network, Color of Change, sent out an email alert July 17 after hearing about the story from Bean and his online subscribers. On the media front, he thinks there's good news and bad: "We've seen the power of black radio and the black netroots who really came into their own on this story, but it hasn't captured the imagination of the left media in the way that I would have hoped." (Subscribe to ColorofChange.org.)
We are, after all, talking about Louisiana. On August, 31, when the two hangman's nooses were found hanging in the tree, journalists were all over the Gulf Coast marking the one-year anniversary of Katrina. In the following weeks, when residents started holding lonely rallies, regional papers in Alexandria, Shreveport and Baton Rouge carried word, as did Jena's own Jena Times.