Friday, September 21, 2007

Jena 6 Freed... Almost

Get ready for a ramble that is partly diatribe, partly lament and partly self-critical assessment of how I have interacted with this story. I didn't hear about the Jena 6 until Wednesday afternoon. You've probably heard by now about the 6 Black students arrested for assault and attempted murder after school yard fights, while their White classmates who engaged in the same activity while using racial epithets received slaps on the wrist. Or have you?

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:
  1. I was writing and defending my dissertation the last few weeks.
  2. I avoid cable TV news channels and their websites like the plague.
  3. I was traveling out of town Tuesday through Thursday.
  4. I live in Seattle, WA.
The first point would be a good enough reason, except that the incidents that preceded the national coverage of the march in Jena, LA yesterday started one year ago. From the Justice in Jena website:
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:
  1. Seattle just has a different, and in some ways more diverse, racial and ethnic makeup, and
  2. There really aren't race issues out here.
Well, since I have been here, several stories of racial profiling and differential treatment of minorities have come to light - usually to me by way of Robert Jamieson. It seems to me like Seattle doesn't have a lot of 'race problems' because as urban centers go, Seattle doesn't have a lot of race. I mean, sure there's more people of color here than in your standard suburb, exurb or rural community, but many people in Seattle can get through an entire day without any sort of interaction with an underrepresented minority. Even if you travel on public transit! How are you going to learn and talk about race issues without relationships with folks of a different race? I know that my situation has changed tremendously since moving to the Northwest, and that I have done a poor job of cultivating relationships outside of the graduate school/science policy/bioengineering crowd. I'll be working hard to change this as I shift away from hi-tech science to training for a medical career that includes care for the underserved.

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?


Drugmonkey said...

Seattle is under the impression that it doesn't have a race problem because they have a ton of Asians and next to no African-Americans.

Your perception is not a feature of being in academia (nor is it the lack of sunshine). It's pretty white up there.

This, combined with the political liberality, makes it difficult for them to really understand places where there ARE deeply entrenched racial problems.

But no, I think the Jena news coverage was minimal all around, myself.

Anonymous said...

Much has been made about the percieved threat that blacks feel from whites regarding noose-hangings lately.

What do you make of these following facts? This comes from "The History of Lynching In The United States", a class at The University of Massachusetts.

"There are "2805 [documented] victims of lynch mobs killed between 1882 and 1930 in ten southern states. Although mobs murdered almost 300 white men and women, the vast majority - almost 2,500 - of lynch victims were African-American."

I certainly think that any kind of violence is evil and that racist lynchings are particularly awful.

I do find it intersting that according to the US Government, at


that at least 8,000 black people were murdered in 2005 alone, and that 93% of the murderers of these black people were black people themselves.

In light of the recent "Jena 6" situation, and the threat that black people have claimed to feel from whites because of it, what do you think about the fact that more black people were murdered by other black people (7,440 people, which is 93% of 8,000) in one year alone, 2005, than were murdered by all the white lynch mobs during the 48 years of 1882 through 1930 combined (about 2,500 people)?

This means that, in only one year, blacks killed almost 3 times the number of blacks than were killed by all the white lynch mobs during the 48 "peak-lynching years" combined!

Therefore, it stands to reason that the real, most dangerous threat to black people these days is not from racist white people or lynchings, but from black people themselves.

Anonymous said...

Black people (men, women, and children) make up ONLY about 12% of the USA, which logically makes "crime-age" black men ONLY about 6% of the US population, but somehow only 6% of the population commits over 50% of all murders, over 32% of all rapes, over 56% of all robberies, and over 34% of all aggravated assaults in the USA.

When viewing the stats linked above, be aware that the FBI and USDOJ count "mestizos / latinos / hispanics / Mexicans / etc" as being WHITE, which unfairly raises the reported "white crime rate" much higher than it actually is. Most Police Departments in the USA also do the same thing. Don't believe me? Check out the Sex Offender page of the Dallas Police Department, at

or the Grand Prairie, Texas (a large suburb of Dallas) Police Department. Every "mestizo / latino / hispanic / Mexican etc" is categorized as being "white".

Washington State does this too:,%20Geronimo%20Rios&address=1xx%20N%209th%20S&city=Yakima%20&zip=98901,%20Pedro%20&address=11xx%20S%2018th%20ST&city=Yakima%20&zip=98901,%20Ricardo%20N&address=13xx%20N%2013th%20AV&city=Walla%20Walla%20&zip=99362,%20Roberto%20&address=xx%20Pioneer%20Ave%20SE&city=Ephrata%20&zip=98823

This unfair categorization of "non-whites" as being "white" skews the "white crime rate", especially the "white sex offender" rate, far higher than it is in reality. Almost every Police Department in the USA does this.