LaSalle Parish District Attorney J. Reed Walter has been adamant that the case popularly known as the “Jena 6" case is not about race. Though he is a Democrat, he is apparently as obtuse concerning issues of race as conservatives.
Certain relevant facts are not in dispute. In August of 2006, a black student sat beneath a shade tree that was the unofficial gathering place for white students. The following day nooses were hung from the tree. In December of the same year, six black teenage boys allegedly attacked and beat Justin Barker, a white classmate, stomping and kicking him as he lay unconscious.
In the intervening months there were several racially charged incidents — everything from fights to arson — that may or may not have been related to the noose incident. Several of the boys involved in the beating have been in trouble with the law before. Admittedly, the facts are a bit more complex than some in the media would have it and the presence of race hustlers Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have further helped to raise tensions. Unfortunately, conservatives have chosen to focus on these questions rather than focus on the issue most germane, which is the seeming disparate application of the adage “boys will be boys.”
The three boys that hung the nooses were initially expelled by the principal and then re-instated by the school board. Claiming the boys were guilty of a “prank,” they were suspended, spent time at an alternative school and were required to undergo family counseling prior to being allowed back into Jena High. The six boys that allegedly beat Barker were arrested and charged with second degree attempted manslaughter and conspiracy. Those charges were eventually reduced to second degree battery, but all told, they still face a combined 100 years in prison.
Having watched video interviews of black Jena residents there are few that believe the six boys should not be punished. They are merely concerned that white boys that hang nooses are given an opportunity to put their lives in order while black boys that fight in school are tossed into the system and the keys thrown away.
All the discussion of criminal records and media hype does not change the fact that the nooses and the failure of the school administration to respond appropriately became the rung on which the martyrdom of thugs was hung. Moreover, had conservatives been there first there would have been precious little opportunity for the likes of Jackson, Sharpton and the other egos to grab the microphone.
Students self segregating along racial lines; nooses hanging from trees; an increase in interracial violence and black parents appealing to a school board that turns a deaf ear — this case was and has always been about race!
Two different standards of justice; two different views of life in Jena and two different views of life in America. For conservatives to dismiss this fact demonstrates our perpetual tin ear on the issue of race. Sadly that slow-wittedness will continue to be the primary impediment to efforts by the GOP to attract large numbers of black voters.
Justice is not merely the cold distant prosecution of the facts; it is also common sense. And as my grandfather was fond of saying “somebody’s got to have some!”
Aggressive prosecution of these boys subsequent to all that has happened in the town does not serve justice; it only serves to solidify black distrust in the system and a belief in the intractability of racism. The conservative response implies we are complicit in, and blind to, that intractability.
I know emotionalism flows against the nature of conservatives. We are believers in rational thought. We will make up our minds based on objective dispassionate reason. But some issues have an emotional component and we are not fools to recognize that component and address it. To continue to dismiss the perceptions of black America is to be continually outflanked by liberals, who will continue to claim they are the vanguard and shield against white racism. When we choose to give short shrift to the very real perspective of the black citizens of Jena — indeed the black citizens of this country — we end up on the side of skinheads and fools that run around in black face. No matter how you slice it, that is the wrong side!
There is no need to pander to race. The fight for equal justice is one of the hallmarks of conservatism. The Jena 6 case offers the opportunity for those of us that define our conservatism by the principles of liberty and justice for all regardless of race — principles articulated in our keystone document, given new birth by Lincoln and infused with humanity by King — to demonstrate that we are made of sterner stuff than talk. If we are serious about putting the party of Lincoln back on track, we had better begin to pick up what black folk are putting down.
This just in: Front-running Republican presidential candidates decline invitation to participate in a black issues forum at Morgan State University.
I guess for some folks it takes a ton o’ bricks!
Joseph C. Phillips is the author of “He Talk Like A White Boy” available wherever books are sold.
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