Recently a poorly written, poorly researched “insiders view” of the Jena events was posted to The Christian Science Monitor. Interested to see if the “real story” was as interesting as the reporting of the Jena 6, I intently read hoping that maybe the level of racism exhibited was in fact, a myth.
Unfortunately, what I found was a bunch of lies hidden by half truths that lead me to believe that the author himself is more of a racist than he lets on.
First the author immediately tells everyone about how he lives in Jena and his wife teaches at the school where many of the events took place. “Great!” I thought, “this should give a real insight into what transpired!” Unfortunately, I was unprepared for the stack of misinformation that the author presented.
Myth 1: The Whites-Only Tree. There has never been a “whites-only” tree at Jena High School. Students of all races sat underneath this tree. When a student asked during an assembly at the start of school last year if anyone could sit under the tree, it evoked laughter from everyone present – blacks and whites. As reported by students in the assembly, the question was asked to make a joke and to drag out the assembly and avoid class.
This all sounds plausible, doesn't it? However, it is also much too complex of an answer and appears to be more “I have a black friend, how can I be racist?” type straw men building. Given that is was a view of an insider, I decided to trust that this might just be the truth.
Myth 2: Nooses a Signal to Black Students. An investigation by school officials, police, and an FBI agent revealed the true motivation behind the placing of two nooses in the tree the day after the assembly. According to the expulsion committee, the crudely constructed nooses were not aimed at black students. Instead, they were understood to be a prank by three white students aimed at their fellow white friends, members of the school rodeo team. (The students apparently got the idea from watching episodes of “Lonesome Dove.”) The committee further concluded that the three young teens had no knowledge that nooses symbolize the terrible legacy of the lynchings of countless blacks in American history. When informed of this history by school officials, they became visibly remorseful because they had many black friends. Another myth concerns their punishment, which was not a three-day suspension, but rather nine days at an alternative facility followed by two weeks of in-school suspension, Saturday detentions, attendance at Discipline Court, and evaluation by licensed mental-health professionals. The students who hung the nooses have not publicly come forward to give their version of events.
The author seems to indicate an insider knowledge of these students and the event of the nooses, right? Wrong. Any real journalist with an insider track would have been able to chase down these students and would have gotten anonymous quotes from them. This seems to indicate that this is again more of a “black friend” style strawman than the actual facts. Possibly a completely fabricated event string created by a staffer at the school in order to attempt to have a justified excuse for later.
Myth 4: DA's Threat to Black Students. When District Attorney Reed Walters spoke to Jena High students at an assembly in September, he did not tell black students that he could make their life miserable with “the stroke of a pen.” Instead, according to Walters, “two or three girls, white girls, were chit-chatting on their cellphones or playing with their cellphones right in the middle of my dissertation. I got a little irritated at them and said, 'Pay attention to me. I am right now having to deal with an aggravated rape case where I've got to decide whether the death penalty applies or not.' I said, 'Look, I can be your best friend or your worst enemy. With the stroke of a pen I can make your life miserable so I want you to call me before you do something stupid.'”
Again, much too complicated of an answer. If I hadn't already been suspicious at this point, I would have accepted this. Given that there are serious doubts raised by the other points in the author's explanation of the events, this convoluted excuse started some serious alarm bells.
Myth 5: The Fair Barn Party Incident. On Dec. 1, 2006, a private party – not an all-white party as reported – was held at the local community center called the Fair Barn. Robert Bailey Jr., soon to be one of the Jena 6, came to the party with others seeking admittance.
When they were denied entrance by the renter of the facility, a white male named Justin Sloan (not a Jena High student) at the party attacked Bailey and hit him in the face with his fist. This is reported in witness statements to police, including the victim, Robert Bailey, Jr.
This seems a rather skim account, giving no useful information but making light of a possible major event. Instead the author turns around and tries to blame the victim for being, well, a victim:
Months later, Bailey contended he was hit in the head with a beer bottle and required stitches. No medical records show this ever occurred. Mr. Sloan was prosecuted for simple battery, which according to Louisiana law, is the proper charge for hitting someone with a fist.
Uh oh, one of them exaggerated! This means they all lied, right? No, it just means they are human and they have just the same weakness as this author when it comes to exaggerating the cases that make one's accounting look stronger and ignoring cases that make it look weaker. Lucky for me the author really screwed the pooch on the next quote:
Myth 6: The “Gotta-Go” Grocery Incident. On Dec. 2, 2006, Bailey and two other black Jena High students were involved in an altercation at this local convenience store, stemming from the incident that occurred the night before. The three were accused by police of jumping a white man as he entered the store and stealing a shotgun from him. The two parties gave conflicting statements to police. However, two unrelated eye witnesses of the event gave statements that corresponded with that of the white male.
Perhaps the most important of all of the events in the Jena 6 story, the “shotgun” sequence is perhaps the least reported, as well. What really happened with the shotgun, why was a white man carrying it in public and why were the African Americans charged with theft with no charge to the white man? Again, the author carefully glosses over a major event so as to make his own case look stronger.
Myth 10: Jena 6 as Model Youth. While some members were simply caught up in the moment, others had criminal records. Bell had at least four prior violent-crime arrests before the December attack, and was on probation during most of this year.
I've not seen any single news report claim anything of the sort, and the author makes no links or arguments to make me believe that any journalists made this mistake. Bell's record speaks for itself, the kid is not a saint. What he did by hitting someone in the back of the head and then stomping on someone is a crime and he should be punished appropriately.
I suggest that readers actually go through the journalist's entire article and decide for themselves whether his “insider” track has made him biased or if he is actually presenting the facts. I know what I think, and I believe the author is an ass of the highest magnitude for trying to cover up something that can be used as a great opportunity to begin a solid discussion of the current state of southern racism.