Partial facts don't do Jena 6 justice

October 14, 2007|By JONATHAN BURRS

Once again, the media misrepresent the facts involved in the Jena 6 saga. On Oct. 6, The Associated Press reported that nooses briefly hung from a big oak tree outside Jena High School, after a black freshman asked whether black students could sit under it. A white student was beaten unconscious three months later, in December.

However, John Tye, a civil rights attorney in New Orleans and Richard Cohen, who is the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, paint a somewhat different picture.

In an op-ed piece to The New York Times on Sept. 28, Cohen and Tye write the following:

"On Dec. 1, a black student, Robert Bailey, was attacked by a group of whites, beaten to the ground and apparently hit with a beer bottle. He suffered a gash to his head.

"(Prosecuting Attorney) Walters could have prosecuted the group of whites with felony charges that might have put them away for years, just as he is now prosecuting the Jena Six. Instead, Walters charged one white with a misdemeanor; that person served no prison time. The others walked.


"Three days later, the assault on Barker occurred. Bailey and five other black teens were arrested and charged by the police with aggravated second-degree battery, a very harsh charge under the circumstances. But Walters, in an apparent effort to show what he could do with a stroke of his pen, went even further and used his discretion to increase the charges to attempted murder."

It's unfortunate the media often avoid printing certain facts about instances, particularly social issues involving racism. Even more sad than this is the fact that regardless of whether the media print the true facts or not, black people will not forget or ignore what is really taking place.

The Jena 6 case began with what I see as hate crimes perpetrated by several white students who took a dangerous weapon to school. Considering the standard the prosecutor is currently using, claiming that Mr. Bell's shoes were dangerous weapons, I don't think it's a hard case to sell that a hangman's noose dangling from a big oak tree is anything other than a dangerous weapon.

The federal prosecutor told CNN that "the FBI believed that the case had the elements of a hate crime." The white students should have been expelled from school for taking weapons to school in violation of school policy and prosecuted under existing federal hate- crimes laws, but instead they received suspensions.

Racial tensions increased after several white students assaulted a black student, which included a blow to the head with a beer bottle. Considering the standard set by the prosecutor, the white students should have been charged with assault and attempted murder. This, of course, didn't happened.

Black students, clearly under attack by white students, who I believe were undoubtedly feeling superior and immune to any form of consequences, decided to fight back. The rest of the story is what is currently known as the Jena 6, six black students arrested and criminally charged with assault and attempted murder at one point and for a long period of time, held without a bail hearing.

It's a never-ending story, this thing known as racism in America and unfortunately the media increase racial tensions in whites by inaccurately presenting "all" the facts related to race- related crimes white people routinely commit against blacks. When will it all end?

Jonathan R. Burrs is a Hagerstown resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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