I was just a kid when the Reverend Jesse Jackson ran for president, and it was his second time around I was really becoming aware of national politics. Maybe it was just the school I went to, or the teachers I happened to have, but I remember him as being someone to look up to. He was often compared to Martin Luther King, Jr. and called a heroic figure, a crusader to improve race relations.
Today, it astounds me at how far he’s fallen from that image. During the national attention surrounding the Jena 6, the 6 black teens on trial for beating a white student, he accused Senator Barack Obama of “acting white” (then of course backpedaled when questioned). To top it off, he failed to learn his lesson in Decatur and is now expected to join Reverend Al Sharpton in a March on Jena, Louisiana.
Let’s look at the first part of that, his calling Obama white. I really hope there’s video or audio of that out there somewhere, because “it doesn’t accurately represent my feelings” just doesn’t cut it. If he didn’t feel that way, he wouldn’t have said it in a public forum. And he knows it’s wrong, otherwise he wouldn’t be backing away from his statement.
As for Jena, I think he is once again marching in without the whole story.
For starters, I completely agree something should have been done about the “white tree” at the school and the students who hung the nooses from the tree should have been punished with more than a three-day, in-school suspension. No question about it, given the zero tolerance problems at many schools result in students facing harsher punishments for significantly lesser offenses.
If this white kid, Justin Barker, was involved in the noose prank, he deserved a good, old-fashioned ass-whooping. But let’s not forget, mob justice isn’t exactly legal in the US. Nor is vigilantism. If the Jena 6 truly have the courage of their convictions, they should deal with the consequences of their actions. There’s also a question of severity; there’s a big difference between an ass-whooping and attempted murder, if that’s really what the boys were after.
The next problem is the prosecutors are not convinced the fight had anything to do with the nooses:
“A lot of things happened between the noose hanging and the fight occurring, and we have arrived at the conclusion that the fight itself had no connection,” said Donald Washington, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana.
This is a US attorney for the state, not some local, good ol’ boy sheriff who may be siding with The Man. The Wikipedia article references say there were over 40 student statements about the fight, none of which mentioned the nooses. They have also reduced the charges for some of the Jena 6, and referred some of them back to juvenile court, which I would expect is good news. Not good enough, apparently, for Sharpton and Jackson.
There are a lot of questions that Jackson should be asking, and to be fair, a lot of things the media hasn’t been telling us:
- Who were the students involved in the noose incident? Was Barker one of them or not?
- Have any of the Jena 6 confessed to attacking Barker and/or made a statement on why they attacked him?
- If the state is charging Robert Bailey, Bryant Purvis, and an “unidentified juvenile” (I’m assuming Jesse Ray Beard) with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder, then what is listed as the motive? References in the Wikipedia article suggest to me that Barker opened his mouth, one of the attackers shut it for him, and the rest of the Jena 6 joined in. If I understand “conspiracy to commit murder” correctly, however, it suggests those charged were out to find Barker.
- What, if anything, has the US attorney done about the noose incident now that they’ve investigated it and proven the fight was unrelated?
- Why did the superintendent and school board overturn the principal’s recommendation for expulsion of the students in the noose incident?
- What, if anything, has the school district done to prevent, discourage, and/or deal with such racially-charged incidents in the future (both the “white tree” and the beating)?
- What is the status of the investigation into the arson that destroyed the main high school building on November 30th, 2006?
- Last and most certainly not least, what exactly do Sharpton, Jackson, and the demonstrators want? Do they want the problem solved, or do they just want 6 young black men set free? If the former, what do they suggest? If the latter, how is that going to improve race relations in Jena, Louisiana?
On a related note, I think we can do without the hayseed picture of Barker and his tractor. How nice that CNN would select a “harmless white boy” picture of Barker and set it next to Mychal Bell in football uniform with an angry or aggressive expression (which I would imagine has to do with his being in uniform, not some implied hatred of white kids).
In the end, I suspect this one will end similar to the Decatur incident: they’ll quietly roll out of town and that will be the end of it.
What happened, Reverend? Did you change, or was I just too young, blind, or stupid to not see you for who you really are?
Addendum: Thank you Roland S. Martin for breaking it down on CNN. As he says, it’s not about the celebrities (including Jackson and Sharpton), it’s not about getting the Jena 6 off, it’s about seeing equal justice. Was this attempted murder or not, and if so, prove it.