In retrospect, Jena 6 more culpable than protesters, Sharpton believes

TEMPERS ARE STILL aflame in Jena, La. Cries of injustice and “free the Jena Six” have been heard across the country. The story has dramatic, “Movie of the Week” elements to it: nooses, six jailed African-American teens and tens of thousands converging on a small Southern town in protest. But perhaps protestors were too quick to point to racism as the cause of the Jena Six’s current plight.

Events were as follows: On Sept. 6, 2006, nooses were found hanging from a tree under which white students traditionally sat at Jena High.

The three white students responsible for the nooses were ultimately suspended from school, but not charged with any crimes. On Dec. 4, 2006, six black students at Jena High knocked unconscious and repeatedly kicked Justin Barker, a white student, for allegedly using racial slurs against them. The six students were initially charged with second-degree attempted murder. Those charges have since been reduced to second-degree battery.

A line has been drawn connecting the noose-hanging incident to the Jena 6 incident, despite any concrete evidence that the two are directly linked. Protestors point to the suspension of the white students versus the arrests of the Jena Six as evidence of racism and prejudicial treatment.

The hanging of the nooses was an unforgivably cruel act. There is no question that racial tensions have run high in Jena since the incident. Racism is unfortunately deeply ingrained in the past and present of our country. However, the country is governed by a concrete set of laws and a judicial system.

According to CNN, the white students were not charged with a hate crime because they did not meet all the federal requirements to be charged as adults. In short, they did not break the law.

The Jena Six clearly broke the law in their attack of Barker. Maybe the incident was racially motivated on both sides, but the six were arrested and charged not because they were black, but because what they did was, quite simply, illegal.

Months later, when a hunting rifle was discovered in Barker’s vehicle while it was parked in the school parking lot, he had to suffer the consequences of his actions as well. Despite no evidence that Barker intended to use the weapon, he was arrested for having it in a firearm-free zone. He was also expelled from the school district for over a year. There were no allowances made for Barker because he was white or the victim of the Jena Six attack.

There are other areas in the Jena Six case where the cry of racism did not seem to hold.

Critics of the trial for one of the six, Mychal Bell, point to the fact that he was convicted by an all-white jury. According to the website for Jena’s newspaper, The Town Talk, 150 people, randomly selected without regard to race, were summoned for jury duty, and only 50 appeared, none of whom were black. Would it not have been equally prejudiced of the court to specifically seek out black jurors to serve on Bell’s case?

The rallying cry of the protestors who marched on Jena was “free the Jena Six.” Everywhere in the news, it seemed that supporters of the six, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, demanded that the defendants be released, consequence-free.

I am willing to bet that Sharpton would have been singing a completely different tune had a black student taunted six white students and then been attacked. Sharpton would have been on the news within hours, decrying the act as a hate crime that deserved maximum punishment.

The consequences of the law should not vanish for the Jena Six simply because they are black. What they did was wrong, regardless of the reason. In fact, a look at the history of some of the group shows repeated offenses.

Bell was on probation for four crimes, two involving battery, when he attacked Barker. Another student, Robert Bailey, Jr., was involved in two other fights with white men in the days leading up to the attack on Barker.

Yes, the initial charges of second-degree attempted murder were too harsh. One could argue that even the current charges don’t fit the crime. But let the Jena Six off altogether? I don’t think so.
Perhaps the cry should have been “reduce the charges of the Jena Six,” although it is not quite as catchy as “free the Jena Six.”

Joanne Lui is a senior majoring in mass communication and journalism with an option in print journalism.Joanne is full-blooded Chinese but hates rice and refuses to use chopsticks.

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