Posted: Thu, 13 Sep 2007 13:36:13 +0000
Some of the best commentary on the Jena 6 situation can be found on the BlackAmericaWeb. Tonyaa Weathersbee asks how District Attorney’s like Reed Walters have such an easy time painting young black males as dangerous thugs. Her answer may surprise you.
Commentary: Jena Six Prosecutor Counting on White Public to Be Complicit in the Racism at the Case’s Root
Date: Wednesday, September 12, 2007
By: Tonyaa Weathersbee, BlackAmericaWeb.com
The Jena Six outrage has been in the making for some time. Since the late 1980s, at least. That was about the time when the crack cocaine trade and its accompanying violence consumed black neighborhoods, nightly news broadcasts and white people’s collective fears — fears in which all young black males were cast as super-predators in waiting. Give them a chance, the fear-driven reasoning goes, and they’ll kill someone.
This toxic atmosphere is what gives a prosecutor like LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters the nerve to believe that he can get away with doing the sort of thing that would make Atticus Finch shudder, that he can charge six black teenagers for attempted murder and possibly get them locked up for most of their lives for a schoolyard beatdown.
The brawl, of course, was the culmination of racial tensions that had been building at the teenagers’ high school in Jena, Louisiana for some time.
Basically, black students sat beneath a tree where whites congregated, only to be greeted by nooses.
Not surprisingly, a series of scuffles and confrontations followed. One white student was beaten up. He walked out of a hospital after a couple of hours of being treated for a black eye and a concussion.
But the six blacks who beat him up — apparently after he had been taunting them with racial slurs — won’t be walking out of jail as easily. They may, in fact, face decades in prison.
Even though the attempted murder charge against Mychal Bell, the first defendant to be tried, was reduced to aggravated second degree battery, he still could face 15 years in prison.
That’s because Walters managed to convince an all-white jury that the sneakers that Bell kicked the white teenager with was a deadly weapon.
What kind of racist reaching is that?
Now, I’m not surprised that backwoods Louisiana racism still lives on today, or that an all-white jury will convict black people on exaggerated, science-fiction charges.
What’s scary is how white prosecutors such as Walters have come to believe they can get away with that kind of crap; that people will be more inclined to acquiesce, rather than become outraged, at the obvious fact that the punishment being faced by the Jena Six obviously doesn’t fit the crime.
Or that people will be quicker to see six black youths — youths who had no criminal records — as troublemakers rather than as victims. They were, after all, black kids who were driven to react to the racial harassment that school officials believed they could fix with denial rather than action.
But nowadays, men like Walters count on the public to see Bell and his friends solely through the prism of criminality. And over the past two decades, he’s had a lot of help.
He’s had help from the War on Drugs, which has turned black communities into battlegrounds for police officers and drug dealers alike. The police officers often easily snag a few low-level dealers and users, who tend to be black, for the perp walk and for the cameras.
No matter that if the cops conducted drug stings say, in Lindsay Lohan’s neighborhood, the face of drugs and crime would lighten considerably.
Walters has also had help from the media, which for years has stoked viewers’ and readers’ fears with shallow, non-contextualized coverage of crime in mostly-black neighborhoods; places where crime has moved in because jobs have moved out. Places where black males get caught up in a drug trade in which violence tends to be the cost of doing business.
No matter that whites use the majority of drugs in this country. No matter that when it comes to crime, whites make up more than two-thirds of those arrested, but just a third of those who go to jail or prison.
Walters has also had help from conservative pundits like Bill Bennett, who two years ago suggested on his radio show that the United States could bring down its crime rate by aborting black babies.
Seeing that it’s too late to abort the Jena Six, Walters is going for the next best thing. He wants to put them away for virtually all of their lives.
Hopefully, national outrage will continue to build so that he doesn’t get away with that. But our outrage shouldn’t just stop there.
We should also be outraged at those circumstances that have brushed all black males with the criminality brush. We should be outraged that some prosecutors now count on a white public, whose fears of young blacks have been stoked by the drug war and other kinds of distortions, to be complicit with them in the kind of racism that is at the root of the ordeal of the Jena Six.
And do our best to root it out wherever it exists