Sunday, September 09, 2007

"We don't have many problems with our blacks."

That's a quote from a white person in the town of Jena, LA. When I first read this in a MySpace bulletin, I thought it was a fake. But there have indeed been recent cases that are just as effed-up - and it turns out that this one is for real, as well:

In a small, still mostly segregated, section of rural Louisiana, an all white jury heard a series of white witnesses called by a white prosecutor testify in a courtroom overseen by a white judge in a trial of a fight at the local high school where a white student who had been making racial taunts was hit by black students. The fight was the culmination of a series of racial incidents starting when whites responded to black students sitting under the "white tree" at their school by hanging three nooses from the tree. The white jury and white prosecutor and all white supporters of the white victim were all on one side of the courtroom. The black defendant, 17-year-old Mychal Bell, and his supporters were on the other. The jury quickly convicted Mychal Bell of two felonies - aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. Bell, who was a 16-year-old sophomore football star at the time he was arrested, faces up to 22 years in prison. Five other black youths await similar trials on second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy charges.

You should know that the white kid whom the Black students supposedly attempted to murder went to a "social event" later that day, after the fight. You should also know that the all-white jury who convicted Bell included "two people friendly with the district attorney, a relative of one of the witnesses and several others who were friends of prosecution witnesses."

Pissed off yet? Consider this:
"The prosecutor called 17 witnesses - 11 white students, three white teachers and two white nurses. Some said they saw Bell kick the victim, others said they did not see him do anything. The white victim testified that he did not know if Bell hit him or not.

The Chicago Tribune reported the public defender did not challenge the all-white jury pool, put on no evidence and called no witnesses. The public defender told the Alexandria Town Talk, after resting his case without calling any witnesses, he knew he would be second-guessed by many, but was confident that the jury would return a verdict of not guilty. 'I don't believe race is an issue in this trial. I think I have a fair and impartial jury.'

The jury deliberated for less than three hours and found Mychal Bell guilty on the maximum possible charges of second-degree aggravated battery and conspiracy. He faces up to a maximum of 22 years in prison.

The public defender told the press afterwards, "I feel I put on the best defense that I could." Responding to criticism of not putting on any witnesses, the attorney said 'why open the door for further accusations? I did the best I could for my client, Mychal Bell.'"

Now, according to (which assures us that this did, in fact, happen), the Black kids on trial pretty much beat the shit out of the white kid (who, nonetheless, made it to his social event, whatever that was). It's not that I don't take this seriously - I don't think it's ok to beat the shit out of anyone, even if they are a reprehensible asshole. But you should know, too, that in another case in this same town, a white man pulled a shotgun on Black men, who took the gun away from him. They were later charged with theft, while the white man was not charged. So, clearly, "attempted murder" is in the eye of the beholder in this town, yeah? Even the students who hung the nooses in the first place were never charged, though the principal wanted them expelled: "'Adolescents play pranks,' the superintendent told the Chicago Tribune, 'I don't think it was a threat against anybody.'" Riiiight. Hanging a noose from "the white tree," in the South, the land of "strange fruit," to protest Black students sitting under it, is not a threat. Pulling a shotgun on someone else is not an offense. Taking the shotgun away from someone who is threatening you with it is theft. With logic like this, with a stacked jury, with the numerous other examples of civil rights violations recorded in the news stories about this case, it is clear that calling the beating "attempted murder" has a very particular political meaning.

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Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter cry.


Green said...

Isn't this the most fucked up thing?! I read about this in Newsweek a month or two ago. It makes me want to contact all the black people and say "Come to NY, or SF, or anywhere not where you are, so you can know that not all white people feel this way about blacks!" But of course, why should they have to leave their home.

Is this the same school district that just had their very first mixed-race prom last spring? I know that was in LA also.

Jessica B. Burstrem said...

And did you know that in order to convict him of those charges they had to show that he used some lethal weapon - so they chose to argue that his shoes fit that bill? There's a great Wikipedia entry on everything going on there. It's listed as the "Jena Six." Thanks, I've enjoyed your blog while procrastinating tonight. ;)