The Jena Six

by Ryan on September 22, 2007

in Culture

It’s hard to tell what’s really going on regarding the events of August 2006 which occurred around Jena High School in the small town of Jena, Louisiana.  Louisiana has been on the civil rights radar since the charges of FEMA’s “racist” approach to Katrina (no such racism in Mississippi, though, which also has the nation’s highest African-American population, but a Republican governor unlike Louisiana).  I’ve often wondered where Reverend Al and Jesse Jackson were all those years when New Orleans was the crime capital of the US. 

Anyway, apparently there was a meeting tree on campus in Jena where white students usually congregated.  A black student asked if it was OK for his fellow black students to congregate under the same tree.  The principal said yes.  The next day, nooses appeared on that tree.  Not cool.  Three white students were suspended as a result.  Yet, tension continued to rise between the black and white population of Jena High School, which ultimately lead to the beating of Justin Barker, a white student by six black students.  Barker was treated and released form the hospital fairly quickly.  When the black students were charged with attempted second-degree murder, that’s when this whole ordeal began to draw national attention.  All but one of the black students had their charges reduced.  Mychal Bell is one of the black students still charged with aggravated second degree battery, but he was only 16 at the time of the beatings, meaning he was a legal juvenile.  His story has become the civil rights lightning rod, which is drawing all the national attention.

So, should these black students have been charged as adults in the first place?  Do you charge the white students who tied the nooses with a hate crime?  How about the retaliatory beating of Barker?  Was that a hate crime too?  Are 15 and 16 year old students capable of knowingly committing an adult crime like a mob beating or calculating the commission of a hate crime?  If so should they be charged as such?  

Tough issues.  I don’t really have any good answers.  The white kids should have gotten suspended and were, but the Jena Six should also have been suspended with some minor charges slapped against them for battery– that’s only fair.  They did do wrong, yet the punishment should match the crime.  We do that in New Jersey– if a kids gets into a gang fight outside of school, he/she could get 9-10 days suspension, police charges, and probably do some community service.  Had Justin Barker been hospitalized with brain damage, then nail the Jena Six with the original charge, but it was excessive from this outsider’s incomplete point of view.  Yet, the original charges were also mostly thrown out.  Reverend Al and Jesse Jackson have a habit of coming to the forefront with selective evidence (take Florida 2000 and the debunked issues of racism during the original vote and recount) and making a really big deal.  Unfortunately, their appearances to some in white America seem to be becoming obligatory and knee-jerk like two perpetually ambulance-chasing lawyers, whether or not the issue really is minor.  It will be interesting to see where this goes. 

AP photo.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Blair September 22, 2007 at 12:14 pm

The beathing at Jena High School had nothing to do with the noose-handing incident. It stems from a fight at a private party, which was attended by both black and white students, that occurred when a group of unvited black students tried to crash the party. Rather than call police, a white non-student, who has been charged with battery, beat up one of the black party crashers. The following week at Jena High School, Barker made a taunting reference to the fight at the party. The beating was not in retaliation for the noose-hanging incident, which did not involve Barker. The black students did not attack Barker simply becasue he was white but because he taunted on of them about loosing the fight at the party, so it doesn’t qualify as a hate crime, but it was a pretty severe case of assault and battery. According to wittnesses, one of the black students hit Barker, who is a big, rugged-looking guy, from behind and knocked him unconscious. One of the back students then stood on his head while the others kicked him.

The local prosecutor says he would have charged the three white students if he could find a law to charge them under. The Justice Department investigated the noose-hanging incident and determined it did not qualify as a federal hate crime. The three white students who hung the nooses claimed it was joke. This claim seems incredible, but it is at least partially supported by newspaper accounts of the “white tree” chronology. A clique of white students hung out under the tree. According to local newspaper accounts, the black student who asked in a school assembly if he could sit under the tree asked the question in jest. The entire auditorium errupted in laughter. He was told that, of course, he could sit anywhere he wanted. The three white students say they hung the nooses as a continuation of the joke and that they got the idea from a movie. Photos of the three white students reveal they are immature, wimpy-looking guys who couldn’t intimidate Cub Scouts, much less the black athletes involved in the beating incident. Still, the school board was obviously wrong to shorten the suspension originally imposed by school administrators.

Mychal Bell may be only 16, but he was on parole on previous convictions for battery and assault and destruction of property committed prior to the incident at Jena High School. This is why he is still in jail. He could be jailed simply for violating his parole. Since the other black students involved in the beating are overt 17 and are adults under Lousiana law, they will be tried as adults. Any white person of their age would also be tried as an adult.

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rightonoz September 24, 2007 at 5:55 pm

Sorry, guys, a juvenile is a juvenile, the world over (well almost), except for the US where some prosecutor can decide that a 13 year old should be tried as an adult and sentenced to death, in direct violation of the UN charter that the US signed.

I cannot believe that at a political whim (and let’s face it it’s all about appearing tough on crime to get votes)a prosecutor can deny logic and decide that a juvenile is an adult.

Attempted 2nd degree murder, where on earth did he pull that one from.

Both the white students and the Black deserve some punishment, but what it should be I won’t comment, other than to say, the US has one of the highest prison populations in the world which are a great criminal training ground, so the put people in jail for an admittedly bad incident should not be an option unless it is truly to protect society. Find a punishment that does not add to the prison population and cost to society yet clearly sends a message.

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Mike September 24, 2007 at 10:05 pm

No treaty may violate the U.S. Constitution, even one with your beloved U.N. And no, we do not sentence 13 year olds to death. The cutoff is 16 or 17. Maybe you oppose that and that’s fine. But we don’t execute 13 year olds.

We tried non-prison punishment during the 1970s and it didn’t work. “Punishment” does not work. “Rehabilitation” does not work. At least with long prison sentences, those who would commit crimes are locked away. I wish we could try your hypothetical situation where we could punish without prison while sending a message and keeping people safe. Unfortunately, we live with human beings. Until we discover that magical formula no one has before, my sympathies will lie with the victims of crime.

That said, I agree with you on the substance on this story. While the punks should be charged, the second degree murder charge was pulled from somewhere, probably a body part, but certainly nowhere on this planet.

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rightonoz September 25, 2007 at 6:50 pm

Mike,

Firstly, why sign a UN charter unless you intend to honour it. The charter on the execution of children does not in any way violate your constitution.

From memory the 13 year old was in New York, 13 at the time of the crime (tried as an adult) and executed at 16. Then there was the 16 yr old in (Florida?) took three attempts to execute him due to the Chair equipment not being small enough for his head. The doctors present admitted he would have suffered immensely. However enough on that.

On the punishment thing, it has been proven in more studies than I care to list that incarceration on it’s own, especially with hardened criminals in the same location breeds repeat criminals and has no value in reducing crime. Was has been proven is that rehabilitation does work. In the US at present something like 85% of sex offenders imprisoned re offend. In Europe they have in some countries a system where the prison time is minimal and there is a rehab involving understanding the effects on the victim and even meeting victims. Their re offend rate is marginally over 15%. Similar results were achieved in California some years back before it was dropped due to the ‘vengeance mentality’ outrage.

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Mike September 25, 2007 at 7:20 pm

Oz:

No one under the age of 18 may be legally executed in the U.S. Roper v. Simmons. 543 U.S. 551 (2005). We do not execute 13 year olds in the U.S. I think you’ve been listening to some pretty anti-American sources. I still respect your opposition to capital punishment. I might even agree with it on policy and moral grounds. Just not on legal grounds.

Under our Constitution, the federal gov’t cannot implement punishments for state crimes. If our own federal government can’t do it, neither can an international body. The U.S. never, constitutionally or otherwise, consented to a world government that can dictate our own criminal justice policies.

Even assuming you are right for the sake of argument and the charter did apply to such a situation; surely someone, somewhere could have found some judges somewhere, on any level of the American court system who would agree. Some of our judges are fairly liberal approach in their interpretation of “international law” on just about every issue. Yet somehow we can’t find any judges who think the UN Charter bans capital punishment in the U.S. That’s because it doesn’t. Maybe you’ll find an outlier in Vermont or somewhere like that, but that view is not even close to the mainstream in American jurisprudence.

On your other point. It’s funny because it has been proven in more studies than I care to list that rehabilitation does not work. Sure some studies say the same thing of incarceration. At least under my preferred approach, society is protected from a particular bastard while he is locked away. The same can’t be said for your 15 percent of victims assuming your number is correct.

ETA Before Roper the minimum age was 16, at least since 1988.

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