The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Jena:
Don’t turn the other cheek!

Sep 24, 2007

After the events in Jena Louisiana became national news, most newspapers and TV stations jumped immediately from the hanging of nooses from a tree last September to the beating three months later, ignoring everything that happened in between. They helped to fuel the impression – and in many cases even said it – that this was a savage beating carried out by six black supposed thugs, in response to a childhood prank by a few innocent whites. It was anything but.

Let’s review:

After several black students sat beneath a tree designated by white students as “for-whites-only,” three nooses were hung from the tree. The principal of the school originally expelled the three white students who were responsible for this; but the head of the school board reinstated them after a few days, calling it a “harmless prank.” The district attorney did not charge them with anything, saying they had not broken any law.

In other words, in Jena it’s not against the law to threaten to lynch a black person!

The black students understood the threat, though, and so a large number gathered beneath the tree in protest. District Attorney Reed Walters threatened them later, saying, “I can end your lives with the stroke of a pen.”

In the months after the protest, there were several attacks by white students against black students. One time, a group of white students attacked and beat 17-year-old Robert Bailey. Of this group, only one was arrested. He was given probation and asked to apologize.

On a later day, a white man drew a gun on Bailey. Bailey and several friends were able to wrestle the gun away from the man and escape. The white man was not charged with anything. No indeed. Instead, Bailey and his friends were arrested and charged with robbery for taking his gun!

Is it any wonder that these black students decided to defend themselves? The law certainly didn’t – it was too busy giving the racists the go-ahead.

When Bailey and some of his friends hit a white student on December 4, all six of them were arrested and charged them with attempted murder – a charge so preposterous that even the district attorney was forced to reduce it to aggravated battery.

The Jena Times called it “one of the most violent attacks in Jena High School history.” Really? That violent? The white student was seen later that same day at a social event at the school!

Most news outlets reported none of this in the days leading up to or following the huge protest in Jena on September 20. The most that was ever said was that “fights were frequent” between white and black students.

This is not just a problem of one small town. It’s a problem of a whole society that treats all this as ORDINARY – the reserving of the best shade tree for white students only; the beatings and harassments by white students against black students that were ignored by the school administration and cops; and the overt threat to KILL that the nooses represented. The racists may pretend that no one was ever lynched with nooses like those, but black people remember. Almost anyone whose family came from the South – and many who lived in the North – know of someone who was lynched. They understand exactly what the message was. That’s why people demonstrated. That’s why six young black men refused to accept violence without responding in kind.

News media that choose not to tell the whole story not only are liars. They are outright supporters of racism.

This is the lesson of the whole story, that the racists want to bury: Facing racist violence, you don’t turn the other cheek!