Jena 6

September 21, 2007

So as I am sure most of you have read about, the Jena 6 in Louisiana was the topic of the day. Although the events involved happened last year, the news has been picking up the story and more people are starting to hear about. It is an unfortunate event, actually more like a series of events. To familiarize yourself with the story, the most non-biased and straightforward article I have found is the NY Times article. People protested all across the country this week, and today many people wore black in solidarity. I go to school in North Philly and saw at least 15 people with “free the Jena 6” shirts on just on my lunch break.

Not knowing all the details I cannot formulate an exact opinion. But from what I have gathered so far, I agree it is a heinous example of racial discrimination. The initial tree incident should have been dealt with swiftly and severely and there should have been early attempts at relieving racial tension in Jena. Violence perpetuated by white students on black students should have been punished severely within the school and additional legal options made available for any victims. But that in no way excuses the attackers or implies that the people involved should be set free. Now if those people are cleared of wrongdoings or found not guilty then they should go completely free. But in reality, no one is denying that six people attacked one person. As such, those six people need to be punished. Violence, except in self defense, is never permissible. So because the system has been unfair to you in the past does not mean that system does not apply to you. What I find disturbing and to be racially discriminatory is the charges filled. A fight, even a brutal out numbered one, is a fight. An assault is not an attempted murder. There is no indication their intention was murder, and with six people if the intention was murder, the victim would be dead. The charges are clearly blown out of proportion, but I think the prosecutors are to blame and will over the course of time, reduce all charges (if not just drop most completely) and there may be resignations/firings coming down the pike at both the school and the DA.

What this incident really should serve as is a conversation piece. People need to start talking about racism and discrimination in our society and ways to prevent and deal with it. Racism is clearly still alive, but we need to focus on the modern reincarnations. Knowing about Martin Luther King Junior or sit ins or marches is not relevant to solving today’s problems. Modern racism is more subtle, more gray. We don’t live in a black and white world, of racists and non-racists. I think our societies racial problems stem from a lack of knowledge more so than an intrinsic feeling of superiority. I think really understanding the significance of socioeconomic factors, historical circumstances, and legal inequalities (for example the war on drugs, and 3 strikes laws) would help rid America of much of the racial tensions. I know it is sometimes hard for people to see how African Americans can still be so far behind in terms of monetary, political, and social equality when many immigrant populations have come to America and succeeded in far less time. But a strong education (in early childhood and continuing through life) about the cyclical nature of poverty, discrimination, and crime might change things. I don’t know, maybe I am just an optimist, but I see the majority of racial discrimination as a solvable problem. I think education is the only tool available to level the field. If quality education could be provided at all levels in all areas regardless of economics, then more of the underserved populations (which consist heavily of minorities) would get out of that life and go on to success. As more succeed, there are more examples, more hope, and more possibilities opened for other underserved people. It wouldn’t be overnight, but slowly things would begin to even out. The wealth, the knowledge, and the privileges of American life would be spread more evenly among the races, largely cutting racial tension and resentment.

But before anyone jumps down my throat for being a pansy liberal and allowing society to take the fall for individual’s choices, let me say I feel everyone is accountable for their own actions and their life’s outcome. I believe if someone works hard, gets an education, and always strives for what they want, they can get ahead in life. Letting race, or for that matter anything, hold you back or using it as an explanation for failure is copping out. I think the first step towards full equality is for the discriminated population to stop viewing themselves that way and to stop wallowing in real or perceived discrimination.

As my man, Bill Clinton said:

“I believe in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. I believe in religious liberty, I believe in freedom of speech, and I believe in working hard and playing by the rules.”