The Jena Six case, as it has come to be known, became inundated by media coverage in the past month. While it’s difficult to pinpoint what happened and why, certain things are clear: a series of racially driven events occurred and may have culminated in the trials of six black high school students in the small town of Jena, LA.
In September 2006, nooses were hung on a prominent tree on campus, “white tree,” after a black student asked why only whites hung out under the tree. The students charged with tying the nooses were recommended for expulsion by the principal, but the school board later overturned that decision in favor of suspension, calling the event a mere youthful prank.
Although parents of black students called upon the school board, they were denied an appointment since the incident was supposedly under control.
By December 2006, the predominantly white town had several more incidents, including arson of the high school and fights at a convenience store and a mostly white party.
On Dec. 4, 2006, six black students got into a fight with a white student who was allegedly taunting them about the noose incident. The white student was treated for injuries to the face and head, while the black students were arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder.
Bail for the Jena Six was set between $70,000 and $138,000, and an all-white jury found one of the Jena Six, Mychal Bell, guilty on all charges, a sentence that could put him in jail for up to 22 years. The “deadly weapon” Bell was accused of using: his shoe.
By September of 2007, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco stated that Bell would be re-tried as a minor. Only two of the Jena Six will be re-tried as minors; the remaining four were 17 at the time of the fight, and will be tried as adults.
Although all the events that occurred before the Jena Six trial seem interrelated, it is difficult to be certain of this. Jena, LA is in the rural South, with a white population of approximately 85 percent. It is highly doubtful that these were the only racially driven acts the town has seen in its history.
What is interesting about this case is the amount of media attention it has received. Facebook groups sprang up, MySpace bulletins and e-mail petitions flooded inboxes across the United States.
Although not all of the reporting has been accurate, it is important to note that reporting is actually being done, and local and national figures are rallying to fight what appears to be a deeply rooted racial issue.
Many notable activists and entertainers have taken up the cause. Chartered buses, funded by rapper Ice Cube, came to Jena from California, an act reminiscent of the once powerful student initiative of the Civil Rights movement.
Alas, it was only one bus. It is saddening to realize that, as reasonably aware beings in one of the most socially-conscious environments around, the most people are doing to support civil rights activism is joining a Facebook group.
It has become so easy to distance ourselves, to be grateful that we don’t live “over there,” to worry about attaining peace in the Middle East while ignoring the violence in our own nation. In our liberal community, where has the initiative gone?
Even during the booming Civil Rights movement, only a small minority of students actually rode on the buses, actually marched alongside people like Martin Luther King, Jr.
But where has our sense of outreach gone? Have we outsourced it, thinking it more useful in foreign lands? While that may be the case, coverage of one of many other undocumented cases like that of the Jena Six makes us sit down as a nation, and take heed of what is going on in our own backyard, when “over there” quickly transforms into “over here.”
In a sense it is our job, as the new breed of activists, to take the case. We may be a stark minority of people, but only with numbers can the still-prevalent cases of blatant racism and hate in our country be brought into the public eye, and possibly even dealt with head-on.