Friday, September 21, 2007


These are my thoughts on what I understand about what is happening in Jena, LA.

It is my understanding that there is a shade tree on the property of a highschool. I have heard that the tree was planted by 2 young women, one black and one white, many years ago as a symbol of racial harmony.

I know what highschool can be like. Kids can be cruel and irrational as they test the limits of their power in social situations. In an atmosphere like that, some students had it in their heads that the shade tree was somehow to be for whites only, echoing long outlawed segregation.

When an African-American student raised concern about the issue in an assembly, the school officials stated that they could, of course, sit whereever they please. Thereafter, some white students hung nooses from the tree.

The weight of history hangs over this kind of behavior, especially a symbol like a noose which was used to carry out arbitrary and summary executions of many black Americans over many years. It was not so long ago that such things took place.

I have a coworker who grew up in central Virginia. He still remembers many stories he heard as a kid and some first hand incidents he witnessed where the father of an African American friend or neighbor was dragged from his home into the street and beaten.

Free American men women and children have been falsely accused, bombed during church, torn from their families and insulted, abused and murdered. A 14 year old black boy in the south was once drowned in a river for merely whistling at a white woman.

Racially motivated hangings (also sometimes referred to as lynchings) carried out by violent mobs have taken place in the past. These occurences where not so long ago in history and frequent enough to be common knowledge.

The use of such a symbol of repression as a noose, and the history behind such symbol is a cruel and violent, abhorrent act all its own. It is more than a prank. Legally it ought to be considered at least harassment if not a death threat. It is something terribly serious in our culture to communicate in such a way to a people who have had a history of injustice and harm done to them. Not to mention years of slavery preceeding the segregation times.

The kids who admitted to placing the nooses have yet to be charged.

Teenagers get in fights. These things will happen. Especially when injustices are carried out against them in these Highschool social battles. Apparently some fights took place surrounding these events. These involved bloodied bruised faces and even allegations of attempted murder. There were apparently many fights with many subjected to harm on both sides of the racial divide.

It seems that only African American youths were actually charged in the assault cases. One of these young men was being held in jail and now that his conviction has been overturned by a judge is still in jail.

That seems highly irregular.

This is a civil society. I don't think it's wrong to prosecute assault. Yet, in light of the egregious nature of the extenuating circumstances that led to the violent backlash, it should be understood that these 6 young men, who actually were charged, had a justified outrage.

All parties to the fighting should be cited. Also, those who have now admitted to hanging the nooses should be charged with something befitting the utter disregard for decency and the social contract in which they have engaged. Couldn't there be a "disturbing the peace", "inciting riots" or other applicable charge filed against those kids?

It looks awfully skewed that not one of the arrested parties happens to be caucasian.

I believe it is clear that use of a violent symbol that threatens death, invoking real and horrifying actual events from the not too distant past is far more serious an offense than some teenage fist fighting, even if the fights were started by these morally wronged young men.



C. L. Hanson said...

Re: Legally it ought to be considered at least harassment if not a death threat.

Absolutely. Considering the history you cite, it is beyond "hate speech" and falls into the realm of death threats.

Freckle Face Girl said...

I also believe it falls into the realm of death threats, especially given the fact that they live in the south. They intentionally used this to scare away the black kids. I think the fights that broke out were a sign of how bad things had gotten in the high school. I also think the administration failed all of the kids for not acting sooner.