HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
October 1, 2007, Herald Journal

Jena 6 violence can be avoided


I’ve been hearing confusing accounts in the news media lately about the Jena Six. It seemed the violence committed by six black athletes on a white student in Jena, La. was a reaction to the repugnant act of hanging nooses in a shade tree. The nooses were supposed to scare black students by reminding them of Jim Crow South, a time when racists lynched black people.

However, the news accounts didn’t say the nooses were hung in the tree three months before the victim, Justin Barker, “was cold-cocked from behind, knocked unconscious and stomped,” said Jason Whitlock, a black columnist for the Kansas City Star.

On Sept. 20, thousands of blacks gathered for a civil rights demonstration to see justice done for the Jena Six. The real purpose to the demonstration wasn’t to protest the nooses, but the grossly excessive attempted murder charges on Mychal Bell, the first of the Jena Six, by Reed Walters, the Jena district attorney, Whitlock said.

“Barker sustained no life-threatening injuries, and was released from the hospital three hours after the attack,” Whitlock added.

On the other hand, the white kids who hung the nooses on the tree were suspended for only three days, instead of being expelled.

The nooses were linked to Barker’s assault, though, by people who wanted to gain sympathy for the Jena Six, he said.

Walters is being accused of racism because he didn’t show “compassion” that this was the third time Bell was brought to court on assault charges in a two-year span,” Whitlock said.

Bell was already on probation for assault when he was accused of participating in the attack. Barker was selected for the beating because he was white and nearby, not because he had anything to do with the nooses.

Bell was convicted by an all-white jury of aggravated battery, and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. However, the news accounts rarely mention that no black people responded to the jury summons, and that Bell’s public defender also was black. The defender called no witnesses, and offered no defense, Whitlock said.

Also, the townspeople in Jena are accused of being racist, too. However, Bell was a star on the Jena High School football team, and had received a Division 1 football scholarship. The townspeople supported Bell, and protected his football career long before even Bell’s father and others took an interest in him.

Whitlock, who is a spokesman for the Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City, said the group is lucky to get 20 black men a year to volunteer as Big Brothers for the 100 young black boys in the program in the Kansas City area.

According to Whitlock, The Jena Six violence is more the result of inattention from Bell’s father and other black men, than nooses and racism.

In this case, Whitlock is right.