Jena 6 debate continues

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October 23, 2007

3:02 AM

Earlier this month, a fellow member of our community publicly stated that he was disgusted by me and others like me. It “disgusts” him that we participate in what he deems a “shameful movement” — a “disappointing display of idiotic hand-wringing.” He is disgusted by the fact that we choose to support the Jena 6 — six black, male teenagers who he refers to as a “gang of thugs,” a “band of criminals” and “scum.” I find it hard to believe that someone can say such demeaning things and have the audacity to refer to others as scum.

p. He claims our support of the Jena 6 is based on falsities, and that if we knew “the facts,” we would not be “so anxious to rush to the side of these criminals.” He refers to an Associated Press story as the sole source of his facts, yet he does not care to provide the proper citation that would allow readers to corroborate his claims. The AP article he uses is entitled “Black and White Becomes Gray in La. Town.” It was written by Todd Lewan, AP National Writer, and published Sept. 22. The story was released again Sept. 24, this time under the title “Locals Dispute Growing Story of Jena 6.”
It is important to note that in their article, the AP neither endorses nor repudiates the details my peer publicly declares as facts. The article simply reports that there are numerous and often conflicting accounts of what transpired in Jena. Depending on who you ask, certain details are likely to vary.

p. There are, however, several undisputed facts in this case that the AP makes clear. In a Sept. 27 article titled “Jena 6 Defendant Released on Bail,” AP writer Doug Simpson wrote that “six black Jena High School students [were] arrested in December after a beating that left [Justin] Barker unconscious and bloody, though the victim was able to attend a school function later the same day.” Four of the six defendants were 17 at the time of the incident, making them adults under Louisiana law. These four plus Mychal Bell, who was 16, were initially charged with attempted murder. The students who hung nooses on the high school campus months earlier were neither charged criminally nor expelled.

p. While my peer argues that the hanging of a noose is not a crime, the New York City Police Department believes that it is. On Oct. 9, a noose was found tied to the office door of a black professor at Columbia University. CNN reported that the incident was being investigated as a hate crime. Early last month, on the campus of the University of Maryland, a noose was found hanging from a tree limb outside the university’s black cultural studies center. In an ABC News article, University of Maryland Police Department spokesperson Paul Dillon said “We will treat this like any other serious crime on campus.” University police even requested assistance from the FBI. The fact that racially charged incidents at a high school warranted less attention and were handled less seriously than similar events that transpired at two universities greatly concerns me.

p. The hanging of a noose is a clear threat. A quick look at our country’s history shows us its meaning. If you are black, you must stay in your place. That place is not equal to that of whites. If you do decide to step out of line and aspire to be equal to or better than whites, you will be beaten and tortured. You will either be set on fire or tied to a horse or car and dragged for miles, or perhaps both. If you are a male, you will be publicly castrated. If you are a female, you will be publicly raped — multiple times. If you are a pregnant female, you will be raped and then your stomach will be cut open in order to fully murder your unborn child. After all this, a rope will be tied around your neck, you will be hung from a tree, and people will enjoy watching you die because you are scum and you forgot that.

p. It is a great injustice when students responsible for hanging nooses are neither charged nor expelled. It is also an injustice when five teenagers are charged with attempted murder for a fight in which no weapons were used; the victim even attended a party following the incident. If the six defendants are found to be guilty, they should receive punishment for assaulting Barker. As supporters, we simply ask that they be treated fairly and receive due process. We see the greater picture.

p. The fact that nooses are hung in the 21st century and certain trees at high schools are viewed by some as “for whites only” shows a deep problem plaguing our country. Racism still prevails, the majority of which goes unnoticed and unmentioned. The great visions pioneered by brave individuals like Terry Roberts, a member of the Little Rock 9 and speaker on campus last year, has yet to become a reality. I challenge all members of our community to have open and honest conversations about racism, which unfortunately exists even on our campus and to work diligently to eradicate it. I believe those who strive to raise awareness about the Jena 6 and similar issues are taking a clear step in that direction. They are to be commended, not criticized.

p. __Justin Reid, a junior at the College, is the William and Mary NAACP president.__

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