UK is outraged, Jena still needs convincing

Someone from the Agence France-Presse (AFP) has cobbled together a Jena story based loosely on Tom Mangold’s reporting in the London Observer. Mangold’s Jena documentary aired on the BBC this evening. As soon as the closing credits began to roll my inbox filled up with outraged emails from all over the UK.

You might also want to check out the Mother Jones blog where you will find another unattributed Jena expose. That’s fine. We just want to get as many people as possible thinking about the implications of this story.

Speaking of which: consider this piece from the Alexandria Town Talk: The story itself is unexceptional, but the 23 (and counting) reader comments that follow are deeply disturbing–to me at least. Local white residents seem convinced that the Jena 6 stomped Justin Barker half to death–even though it is well known that, later that day, Barker showed up at a ring ceremony. I am not trying to justify what was by all accounts a serious attack. But I am troubled by the lack of proportion. Young men could be old men by the time they get out of prison for a school fight in which no one sustained serious injuries. If members of the Jena 6 were involved in the fight (and the June 25th trial should shed light on that question) they weren’t trying to kill anyone; they were trying to teach a rival a lesson. Conversely, when a gang of white kids jumped Robert Bailey at the Fair Barn a few days earlier, they were trying to get a point across (don’t insinuate yourself into all-white social functions). In both cases, friends joined in after the first punch was thrown as an act of solidarity. In neither case was there any serious intention of causing lasting bodily harm.

Both violent incidents are serious, and both merit a disciplinary response. But attempted second degree murder? Twenty-five years to life in prison without parole? We throw lives away in America with scarcely a thought–so long as the lives belong to poor people of color. I spent half an hour on the phone this afternoon with a young Latino who told me his brother will die in prison. At the age of fourteen the young man started slinging crack to local addicts so he could buy fancy running shoes and $80 shirts. At twenty he was sentenced to life in prison. The man was a drug dealer–sure enough. But he was a low-level, non-violent punk who may eventually have made good if he had been sent down for five years. But they gave him a life sentence, so we’ll never know. Again, where is the sense of proportion?

Alan Bean
Friends of Justice
(806) 995-3353
(806) 729-7889

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2 thoughts on “UK is outraged, Jena still needs convincing

  1. Hi Alan.

    An old high school friend sent me the link to this program. As hard as it is for me to believe, I am just now hearing of this story.

    I was in Urania last week end for my nephew’s graduation. That’s my hometown and only 20 miles from Jena. My mom mentioned in passing that the Jena High burned, but nothing else was said about all the trouble that’s been going on over there.

    After watching the BBC program, I have an ever greater appreciation for what your family has gone through. Reed Walters, the DA in the story, is the younger brother of one of my high school buddies. It’s bad when it hits close to home, isn’t it?

    I’ll be watching for more developments. Thanks for being there.

  2. Dear Sir,

    Having been involved in the UK arm of the Friendship Force in the latter part of the 20th century, with all the promise that fine organisation stands for, I am deeply appalled after watching the BBC documentary that medieaval attitudes are raising their vile heads again in the 21st century in your part of the USA. I would like to register my shock at what is going on in Jena right now, and to let you know that support for your cause has extended far and wide across the globe. In an age where, to use an old and esteemed quote, “the Law is an Ass!”, I hope we will one day be able to see Justice reinstated as a respected force for the benefit of all men, and not an excuse to turn the clock back to some ghastly racial pipe-dream paradise. We had quite enough of that when dealing with that unpleasant Mr. Hitler and his ludicrous views.

    May God be with you all, and know that we in the UK – black and white – stand by you in your struggle for true justice and proportionality.

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