Today as I channel-surfed, I came across the Dr. Phil show. It was about the Jena 6. I had heard about the case and shook my head every time I saw it on the news, asking myself when is it going to end? Not the story itself, but the cause of the story. Hate crimes.
In late 2006, in Jena, Louisiana, Justin Barker and friends hung some nooses from a tree outside their school. Why? Because black students wanted to sit under the tree. Blacks are not allowed to do so. The school said they didn’t care; however, some students did care. Mmm. I am having flashbacks of blacks sitting in the back of the bus and not being allowed to drink from white drinking fountains.
In the end, after various altercations among the students, in retaliation for this perceived racist demonstration, Mychal Bell and five others attacked Barker viciously. Barker’s mother claims that one more kick would have killed him. She is his mother. She would say that. Though, one must admit the pictures from the hospital after the attack look bad. One must also admit there are other ways of dealing with injustices.
Barker and friends were suspended for hanging the nooses. Supporters say it was just a joke. Even white supremacists would admit that hanging a noose is not done so as a joke. There is serious meaning behind it.
Bell and his friends were arrested and charged as adults. Bell was tried for aggravated second-degree battery, the others released, still awaiting trial. An appeals court overturned Bell’s conviction, yet Bell remained in jail until yesterday, September 27, 2007. Apparently, since the conviction was overturned, he can still be tried in juvenile court. (www.nytimes.com) His supporters say the charges were excessive, and he should have been released with the others.
As I watched Dr. Phil, I heard the words I had been asking myself since I first heard this story: Who in this country could possibly believe that hanging a noose is a joke? The answer is no one. A hanging noose is tantamount to a burning cross.
This brings me to the beginning. Unless the books in Jena have been seriously edited, these boys learned black, brown, yellow, pink, and people of any other color can go anywhere and do anything in this country that a white person can with no recriminations.
I thought that blatant racism was over. It would be naive of me to believe that racists do not exist in this country. I try to forget the young women who worked for me some years ago (read late-90s) who was taught (I am afraid to ask by whom) that blacks wanted to be slaves, and they wanted to come here in chains. Slavery didn’t really exist. I kid you not.
This case has come to national attention, possibly international attention. Barker advocates say this case is way overblown. I am sure the same was said when Matthew Shepard was left for dead tied to a fence after a brutal beating because he was gay.
Last week thousands went to Jena to protest. To my mind, it was a little late. Bell supporters should have screamed the injustice of this case long ago.
Bell is just now released, yet he can be tried as a juvenile? I have heard nothing about double jeopardy, being tried twice for the same crime. The boy has already been tried as an adult. The fact that the conviction was overturned by an appellate court should be irrelevant. Can it possibly be true that he can be tried as a juvenile? He has already spent well over ten months in an adult prison. I don’t want to even think what happened to him in there, a child amid adults who are child molesters and white supremacists. And, the city of Jena wants to try him again? Oh, sure, he’ll only have to serve until he’s 21 instead of 15 years. Double jeopardy is double jeopardy.
Whether a juvenile is tried and sentenced as an adult is wholly up to each state. It is apparent that the district attorney in Jena saw fit to try Bell as an adult, yet the appellate court saw otherwise. One must wonder if the Jena district attorney goes forward with trying Bell for the same crime as a juvenile, will the appellate court again overturn the conviction, and can it?
The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution doesn’t differentiate between adult and juvenile. It says in part, “nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life, limb, or property…” Unfortunately, U.S. v. Koon goes so far as to differentiate state and federal governments, which means a person can be tried under state and federal laws for the same crime. Needless to say this is how Jena will justify trying Bell as an adult and a juvenile. Grossly obscene, but probably true.
It scares me that there are still places in this country where there are places black people are not allowed, which tells me that if one is not blonde-haired and blue-eyed, one must have a care where one chooses to rest.
It also scares me that there are places in this country where for a black defendant the probability of having an all-white jury is still one hundred percent.