This all makes me wonder why didn't I, a rather attentive new junkie, know about a story that would be of significant interest to me? Here is what I could come up with:
- I was writing and defending my dissertation the last few weeks.
- I avoid cable TV news channels and their websites like the plague.
- I was traveling out of town Tuesday through Thursday.
- I live in Seattle, WA.
Last fall, when two Black high school students sat under the "white" tree on their campus, white students responded by hanging nooses from the tree. When Black students protested the light punishment for the students who hung the nooses, District Attorney Reed Walters came to the school and told the students he could "take [their] lives away with a stroke of [his] pen." Racial tension continued to mount in Jena, and the District Attorney did nothing in response to several egregious cases of violence and threats against black students. But when a white student - who had been a vocal supporter of the students who hung the nooses - taunted a black student, allegedly called several black students "nigger", and was beaten up by black students, six black students were charged with second-degree attempted murder. Last month, the first young man to be tried, Mychal Bell, was convicted. He faces up to 22 years in prison for a school fight.This conviction has been overturned, but Bell remains in jail. The other five students have been released. So while the efforts to initiate a national protest of this situation have been covered recently, I have to still wonder why I did not hear of it before then. For a good op-ed summary and analysis, consider Eugene Robinson's piece from 9/21/07.
The second point is self-explanatory. The story is unfortunately perfect fodder for the cable news mill - sensationalizing the issue so that it is entertaining. The bit I saw on CNN at the Salt Lake airport last night was complete with shocking graphics and polarized point-counterpoint analysis. There was hardly any room for the viewer to think about the story before switching to the O.J. Simpson 'tragedy.' What's a tragedy is that Larry King hosted O.J.'s pseudo ghost-writer for "If I Did It" rather than folks interested in talking about (real) race issues.
My third explanation is an ironic point, because my first encounter with the story was exactly because I traveled. I spent Tuesday night through Thursday afternoon in Washington D.C. My standard point of access for news is the internet and the only microchips I was traveling with were in my cell phone. In D.C., I saw groups of protesters near the capital, on the Mall and in the Metro stations wearing t-shirts and carrying signs calling for release of the Jena 6. I ended up stopping at a terminal in the Library of Congress to look up the issue.
My last point is the one that needs the most addressing: I live in Seattle. Why does that matter? Well, when I moved to Seattle after living in DC and Pittsburgh, I quickly noticed how few Black neighbors and classmates I had. Questioning this (gently of course because I knew no one in the Emerald City and I am White), I was told:
- Seattle just has a different, and in some ways more diverse, racial and ethnic makeup, and
- There really aren't race issues out here.
But back to the subject at hand, is it a function of a lack of newsworthiness in the Seattle market that the Jena 6 story hasn't made it to the front page on Seattle's newspapers? Or what exactly?