Jena, The Day After
The NYT story claims 10,000 but other accounts have up to 50,000 Americans marching in central Louisiana yesterday to condemn unequal justice and to support civil rights. It was certainly an evocative moment that captured simmering frustrations in the black community with the persistent theme of "racism is over, it's not an issue anymore."
“That’s not prosecution, that’s persecution,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the founder of the RainbowPUSH Coalition and an organizer of the demonstration, told a crowd in front of the LaSalle Parish Courthouse. “We will not stop marching until justice runs down like waters.”
And while President Bush reported being "saddened" by the events in Jena (I wonder why), Grandpa Freddie Thompson, as if to prove how far we still need to go with race relations in this country, does not recall.
Asked about the Jena Six case today on his way into a San Antonio fundraiser, Thompson said, "I don't know anything about it."
The fact that only yesterday did this start getting broadcast news coverage is both a testament to the power of activism and and an indictment to the Freedie Thompson-like ignorance of broadcast news. Here's a month-old story from Newsweek with plenty of astonishing details.
Decades of suppressed racial hostility spilled forth at the appearance of those swaying nooses. Word spread quickly that day; before long, scores of black students congregated under the tree. "As black students, we didn't call it a protest," says Robert Bailey Jr., one of the Jena Six. "We just called it standing up for ourselves." School officials convened an assembly in early September, where local District Attorney Reed Walters appeared, flanked by police officers. "I can be your best friend or your worst enemy," he told students, warning them to settle down. "With a stroke of my pen, I can make your lives disappear." A visit to the school, along with the fact that the three white boys who admitted to hanging the nooses were only dealt a few days' suspension, further inflamed the African-American community. "It felt like they were saying, 'We can do what we want to those n-----s'," says Marcus Jones, Bell's father.
Things reached a boil later in the semester. During the Thanksgiving holiday, someone set fire to the school, reducing the main academic wing to rubble (no one has been arrested, and though a link between what was ruled an arson and the racial discord hasn't been proved, many suspect there is one). The following day, Bailey was punched and beaten with beer bottles when he tried to enter a mostly white party in town. The white kid who threw the first punch was later charged with simple battery and given probation. The next day, Bailey ran into a young white man who was at the party. Bailey and parents of the Jena Six say that when the man pulled a gun on him, he tangled with him and stripped it away. He was later charged with theft of a firearm.
The tension culminated back at school the following Monday. Justin Barker, a white student who says he is friends with the kids who hung the nooses, reportedly taunted Bailey at lunch (Barker denies this). A while later, an African-American student allegedly punched Barker from behind, knocking him unconscious. Then, say white witnesses, a group of black students that included Bailey continued to assault Barker, kicking and stomping on him. (Jena High student Justin Purvis and other black witnesses dispute this.) Barker, who was treated for injuries at a nearby hospital, was released later that day, apparently in strong enough shape to attend a class-ring ceremony that evening.
We know the rest. The white boys got suspended, the black boys got charged with attempted murder.
Yesterday in Alexandria, Louisiana, a driver hung nooses from his truck and drove through an area where protesters were gathering to drive to Jena. The ugliness of this country is coming to the fore during this unfortunate incident. Good. It needs to be out in the open so we can deal with it, instead of tucked away somewhere.
UPDATE: What an a-hole:
O"REILLY: You know, I was up in Harlem a few weeks ago, and I actually had dinner with Al Sharpton, who is a very, very interesting guy. And he comes on The Factor a lot, and then I treated him to dinner, because he's made himself available to us, and I felt that I wanted to take him up there. And we went to Sylvia's, a very famous restaurant in Harlem. I had a great time, and all the people up there are tremendously respectful. They all watch The Factor. You know, when Sharpton and I walked in, it was like a big commotion and everything, but everybody was very nice.
And I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship. It was the same, and that's really what this society's all about now here in the U.S.A. There's no difference. There's no difference. There may be a cultural entertainment -- people may gravitate toward different cultural entertainment, but you go down to Little Italy, and you're gonna have that. It has nothing to do with the color of anybody's skin [...]
O'REILLY: That's right. That's right. There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, "M-Fer, I want more iced tea."
WILLIAMS: Please --
O'REILLY: You know, I mean, everybody was -- it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all.
Black people don't shoot each other while eating!!!!