The New Yorker reports on the Jena Six and the protests that finally effected the dropping of charges in all but one of the cases. Recall that after a student asked the high school principal for permission to sit beneath the "white" tree in the school yard, nooses appeared on the tree.
Jena’s recent noosemakers, identified as a trio of white students, were recommended for expulsion by the principal, who was evidently conscious of this history, but a white school superintendent imposed suspensions only, on the ground that the tree display was a prank. In the days leading up to that decision, fights had erupted between black and white students, and the local district attorney, Reed Walters, reportedly gave a speech in which he warned students, “With a stroke of my pen, I can make your lives disappear.”The author, Steve Coll, in an opinion piece, goes on to comment that black observers see the Jena miscarriage of justice as a microcosm of the larger miscarriage of justice in these United States where
Last December, at the school, a black student coldcocked a white student, Justin Barker, knocking him briefly unconscious; other black students allegedly kicked the victim while he lay on the ground. Barker was treated for cuts and bruises at a hospital and released a few hours later. The police arrested six black students, aged fourteen to eighteen, and Walters charged them with attempted second-degree murder and a conspiracy count; if convicted, they faced up to seventy-five years in prison.
Jena prosecutors started reducing the charges to aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy. Still, last June an all-white jury convicted one of the defendants, Mychal Bell, who was sixteen years old at the time of the assault, of crimes that threatened him with up to twenty-two years in an adult state prison. Michael Baisden, a black syndicated radio talk-show host who normally specializes in romance and its perils, undertook an on-air protest, along with others, which spread across black radio and then to the Internet. In late September, thousands of demonstrators descended on Jena. Last Thursday, Bell, whose convictions had been thrown out, was released on bail, after ten months in jail; Reed Walters has agreed to retry him as a juvenile.
The number of blacks in prison has quadrupled since 1980. There are many overlapping causes, among them severe automated federal sentencing rules; a passionate but badly managed “war on drugs” prosecuted most heavily in African-American neighborhoods; and deepening inequalities in personal income and access to education, whose effects fall hardest on urban teen-agers. One study estimates that, if recent trends continue, a third of the black males born in 2001 can expect to do time.I am glad the mainstream media finally picked up the story (try searching the New York Times online for Jena Louisiana).