What Happened in Jena, Louisiana?
Jena, Louisiana, a small town of approximately 3,000 residents, heavily saturated in racial tension has recently become the center of national controversy regarding six young black youth accused of attempted second degree murder.
Last year, black students at Jena High School asked their principal if it would be alright to sit under a big shady tree where white students congregated on a regular basis. The principal ok’d the request – though it’s unfortunate these students felt the need to ask to sit anywhere they were fully within their right to. On September 1, 2006, upon a return trip to the big oak tree, the students discovered three hangman’s nooses neatly arranged as a sick reminder that the black students better think twice about where they sit.
The school administration thought that expelling the perpetrators of this heinous hate crime would be a fitting punishment. The La Salle Parish School Board thought differently. Those three white students we given in-school suspensions.
In late November 2006, an arson fire destroyed the main academic building at Jena High School. This prompted increased tension between the white and black student population – on an off campus.
Tensions climaxed and six black students beat up one of the offending white students.
Second degree murder charges were dropped against one of the defendants – Mychal Bell – and second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery were brought forth. Found guilty by jury (not of his peers, the jury was all white), Mychal could face over 20 years of jail. Mychal was denied bail due to several prior convictions and parole violations.
The question here is multi-faceted. One, does the punishment fit the crime? Are these charges appropriate given the offense? Secondly, why didn’t the white, noose-hanging students get tried for a hate crime? Why didn’t they get expelled? Three, why was Mychal Bell tried by an all white jury? Doesn’t the law stipulate that one is to be tried by a jury of their peers?
This is just one example of how multiple injustices can spiral out of control – enrage and engage so many people of many nationalities.
This controvesay is no doubt just scratching the surface of the volumous amounts of prejudices that exist today.
I do not condone the actions of the Jena 6. In the same respect, I do not condone the actions of the white students who hung the nooses. It seems like racial tension is a vicious cycle that is doomed to repeat itself time and time again – impervious to any amount of judicial influence, time and and education.