We’ve Got to Be Careful About Nooses

As I was watching the CNN’s Special Investigations Unit episode called “Judgement in Jena”, one of the women interviewed said she felt the Jena community should have pulled the white students who placed nooses from a “white only tree” and told them that nooses are of the past and “we’ve got to be careful about that.  People can’t do that anymore.”

As if it were acceptable any other time.  As if it’s just a matter of not publicly displaying nooses.  Keep them inside your minds and everything is okay.

Prior to SIU, I saw a round table news program on which a journalist from The Washington Post suggested that this was not the best case to reignite the civil rights movement.  She commented on the fact that Mychal Bell, one of the members of the Jena Six, has had a previous record.  She also said that the Jena Six kids were violent, which is contrary to the original civil rights movement.

And she is right that a fight occured.  And she is right that Mychal Bell had a previous record (his mother claims he was defending himself against an older, drunk man).  But what the journalist ignores is that this isn’t about whether or not a fight occured (last I checked, no one claimed a fight didn’t occur).  This is about the charges of second degree attempted murder.  This is about claiming one of the defendant’s shoe was a weapon (because a weapon must be involved to charge someone with second degree attempted murder). 

Meanwhile, in December, a white man pulls a shotgun on three black students.  The students wrestle the man to the ground and take the shotgun away from him.  His charge: nothing.  Their charge: assault and theft (of the shotgun).

That is what this is about.  Equal justice under the law.  Mychal Bell could have murdered someone but he would still deserve equal justice under the law.  The charges brought against him and his fellow students are not equal to the lack of charges brought against all of the white people who have been committing crimes toward blacks since the nooses were first hung from the tree. 

And the nooses were a hate crime.  Plain and simple.  Not something “to be careful about.”

Nevertheless, the woman from SIU better head to North Carolina.  Some kids aren’t being careful there, either:

Nooses Found At N.C. High School

UPDATED 9/23/07: 9:28 PM

Because people think we’re crazy when we say racism is still a real threat in America, you must read this story:

FBI probes supremacist Web site over Jena Six

UPDATED 9/26/07: 5:42 PM

Congress may soon be looking closely at the Jena Six case.  Read all about it:

Congress to hold hearings on ‘Jena 6’

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6 Responses

  1. Are we really going to use his mothers claims as evidence?

    A weapon does not need to be involved for second degree attempted murder as far as I know. 2nd degree attempted murder simply requires the intent to kill. But I believe either the 2nd degree attempted murder charges were reduced to assault with a deadly weapon (or something similar), which is where the shoe comes into play. Assault with a deadly weapon obviously requires a deadly weapon and the prosecution claims the shoe qualifies (it might, I really have no idea. It need not be the primary purpose of the object to qualify, for example a car can qualify as a deadly weapon).

  2. My understanding was that the charges were dropped to battery — not assault with a deadly weapon — and from what I’ve read, in Louisiana he needed to determine a weapon and so the shoe was used. At least, that’s the narrative I’ve been reading. And certainly a shoe can qualify as a weapon, but the point, I think, is when the shoe is put into comparison with the shotgun. The shotgun was clearly taken as a weapon, yet no charges were brought.

    And no, I’m not taking the mother’s claim as evidence. I’m just reporting what I heard.

  3. The shotgun story needs to be developed the same as this shoe incident though. Why did the guy pull a shotgun on the kids? So far we’ve got the word of someone accused of stealing someones shotgun and then beating that someone that he had to do it because that someone pulled a shotgun on him. Which all might well be true but where is the evidence one way or the other and where are the people looking into it (rather than just reporting it as a complete miscarriage of justice without presenting any evidence of said miscarriage). A shotgun obviously is a weapon, but it’s also obviously someones property and if it was taken from the owner (before beating the owner up) that is theft unless the shotgun was being used illegally at the time. Instead of spending time holding hands trying to get someone who frankly belongs in jail (Bell) released, maybe the focus should be on determining the actual facts of the case where something might actually make a difference.

    Calling what happened on December 4th a “fight” seems to downplay the fact that the kid was knocked unconsious by “several students.” That’s not a fight, it’s a beating, and frankly seems to fit the definition of battery pretty squarely. It’s really tough for me to defend the actions of a group of kids that knocked another kid unconscious and sent him to the hospital, whatever the races of the kids involved.

    The end result of this attention is probably that Bell (and possibly his partners in crime), who had a prior criminal record, is going to walk away free after joining with a group of people in putting someone in the hospital. That’s the outcome the people supporting the jenna 6 are working towards (rather than a positive outcome like improving racial harmony or even investigating actual miscarriages of justice that might even exist within this specific narative), and the possibility of that outcome makes me sick to my stomach. Hanging nooses is wrong on alot of levels, but ganging up on someone and beating them unconscious is alot worse.

  4. Calling it a fight may be downplaying it. But the kid went to a party later that night after the alleged second degree attempted murder — which is what is in question; not the battery. One, I never defended their actions. I condemned the unjust crime they were accused of. Two, I actually can defend those actiosn if he and friends were using racist epiteths, especially after the other racist actions that had been occuring.

    Do you find it even strange that the shotgun incident hasn’t been investigated but these kids were accused of second degree murder? The story that is being told (for which I’ve yet to find anyone giving a counter-story). Guy goes to convenience store and sees black students. He (guy with shotgun) claims they were acting in a threatening way. So he left. Then he returned with the shotgun. That is a crime. The shotgun can be seen as necessary as self defence — but there is no self defense if you leave the area where you feel threatened and then return of your own volition. It is however self defence if someone comes at you with a shotgun. That is the evidence that has been presented. Since no one followed up on that story (police, DA, the supposed victim) its all we have to go on.

    As for Bell deserving to be in jail, again I’m not sure I agree. But I certainly don’t believe he should have been tried as an adult and I don’t believe he should have been convicted of attempted murder. Not considering the other choices the DA made.

    I’m perfectly happy if the outcome is that Bell walks away free — because his conviction was unjust.

    And I really disagree that hanging nooses is somehow worse than “ganging up on someone and beating them unconscious”. Hanging nooses is a hate crime. That is, in my mind, equal — if not worse — than knocking someone who reportedly (and I have no reason not to believe) was spewing racist remarks in the middle of an already racially charged situation unconscious.

    And racial harmony isn’t going to be improved, in my opinion, if some people (African Americans) are charged with crimes while others (European Americans) are not. The DA made mistakes. Plain and simple. And the kids were wrong to hang nooses. Again, the other kids were wrong to beat up the victim. But I’ve seen lots of kids “beaten unconscious” who didn’t wake up to go to a party later that night and they never got second degree attempted murder charges thrown at their attackers. So demanding equal justice under the law seems fair to me.

    Seeing it not applied makes me sick to my stomach.

    But what I really see you arguing for seems to be ignoring injustices that have happened in the supposed name of moving forward on these issues of race in America? But how can we move forward if we condone the racism? And if we don’t condemn the racism, if we just say, well he deserves to be in jail so no matter what crime he is there for, then we are condoning the racism.

  5. So he was beaten unconscious, but he was released from the hospital and went out afterword, so no big deal? Why is it relevent that he was able to go out later?

    It’s ok to beat people up if they say nasty things about you? Seriously, what kind of world do you live in. If someone calls you a name, that doesn’t give you the right to get a group together an beat him up later. Anymore than someone threatening you gives you the right to come back with a shotgun.

    I do find it strange that the shotgun incident hasn’t been investigated. I’d expect the people focused on getting the kids that beat up another kid out of trouble to instead focus their attention on righting the actual wrong that you described. Since no one is apparently investigating that incident (police, the DA, the supposed victim, the alleged criminals or their lawyers, the ACLU, the NAACP, the rest of the people marching for the Jenna 6) to actually right that wrong, I find it more likely that the crime in question actually occured (guy was threatened, legally retrieved his weapon to defend himself, was assaulted after doing so). Either that or people aren’t really concerned with justice so much.

    Why shouldn’t he have been tried as an adult? He’s a 16 year old with a prior criminal record.

    The equal justice you request is, in fact, no justice. You aren’t looking for justice for the kids threatened with a shotgun (you might want it, but the marches and people you are supporting are not in any way seeking it and wishing for something isn’t the same as actually trying to make it happen), you are looking to let people who actually committed a crime avoid punishment. That’s the opposite of justice. And worse, it isn’t because of anything related to their specific case, but it is because in an entirely seperate incident something happened that you don’t agree with. Seeing it not applied should make you sick to your stomach. You should be doing everything you can to get the guy that came at a bunch of kids with a shotgun (as your narrative says) for no justifiable reason sent to jail. You should be working to get the kids that hung a bunch of nooses expelled from school or sent to jail for committing a hate crime. What you shouldn’t be doing is trying to get the guys the ganged up on another kid set free to balance some arbitrary scales. Using that logic, no one can ever be arrested or charged with anything if only one person has been treated unfairly.

    Hanging a noose is not equivalent to beating someone unconscious. One action is meant to threaten someone, one action actually, physically violates another person . You might as well be claiming that leering at someone and sexually assaulting them are the same thing. Hanging nooses is wrong. Calling it a hate crime and then saying its equal or worse than battery both hyperbolizes the hanging of the nooses and diminishes the impact of the battery.

    But the funny thing is Bell is probably going to go free and the only reason is because he is black.

  6. Okay, lots of points made and my response will likely group a bunch of them together. Hopefully I hit on all points.

    First, I do want the people who hung the nooses to have had a stiffer penalty — unfortunately it is too late for that. I also would like the man with the shot gun (more on him later) to have been charged, but again it is too late for that — such time has passed that the evidence will be gone. Similarly, I would have liked to have seen the white kids who attacked the black kids in Jena with beer bottles to have been charged (though not with the crime that Bell and the Jena Six were charged with because I don’t see these actions as being that severe).

    As for the victim going to the party, it plays in my mind less like this was a victim of a life threatening and life scaring act and more like a victim of a schoolyard fight.

    Hanging a noose is incredibly different than leering because I don’t think a case can be made that leering necessitates a sexual assault. Hanging a noose on an all white tree does clearly create intimidation and that intimidation is warranted considering the history of white people using nooses to strangle black people for doing things that white people don’t like. That is not hyperbole. That is a fact.

    I don’t believe he should have been tried as an adult because th courts deemed he shouldn’t have been tried as an adult. And as I continue to consider Bell’s prior record I continue to question its relevence. We only know the record because of a slip up in court. The reason for that is that a juvenile’s record is sealed. His juvenile record should not come into play if he is now considered an adult. Those records go away and the adult starts over — at least that is my understanding of juvenile records. So you can’t have it both ways. Whatever the case, the assumption that this is just the act of a “common thug” both ignores what is really at issue and refuses to look at the actual case of the individuals.

    I never said calling someone names allows someone to get a group together to beat someone up. But hate speech is not calling someone names. It is a dehumanizing process that has a long history of leading to the death of those who are the recipients of the hate speech. Bell also did not get called a slur, then get a group together, then attack. He was walking down the hall, someone called him and his friends the n-word, they responded. Immediately. Which is not getting a group together and ganging up on them. But to associate hate speech with calling someone a name, I’m sorry, but that to me is a diminishment of reality, and quite frankly one that I am sick and tired of hearing white men say. To associate the n-word with calling someone “stupid”, which is what you do when you say it is calling someone a name, is real easy for those of us who never live with hate speech and the reality of the effects of hate speech.

    As for the guy with the shotgun — look again at what the man with the shotgun has been reported as saying: He was at a gas station. He felt threatened. He left the gas station, drove home (how many miles?) and drove back to the gas station to defend himself. That is not self defense. You know why? Because self defense is usable when in imminent danger. If you can leave, then you are not in imminent danger. And if you can leave and do leave, then when you drive back to the place where you claim you felt threatened, then the threat you felt wasn’t all the real. And if you do do that, if you do return to the place you felt threatened and you do so with a shot gun, then you are not defending yourself. You are acting violently in response. You are the agressor. You are th eone who committed the crime. Those who wrestled the shotgun, which you were pointing at them, away from you are defending themselves because you left and returned waving a shotgun at them. They have every right then to beleive you will use said shotgun on you, which equals imminent danger.

    As for the bigger issue of justice, etc. The fact that we are discussing the man with the shotgun is only because of the attention the media and the protesters have paid to the issue. It is coming to light because people are finally looking into it. That is a success. That people are talking about racism again is a success. Thata conversation is going is a success. What you seem to not see is that the Jena Six are a concrete example of a very abstract issue. Getting people in support of the concrete allows us to discuss (or makes it easier) the abstract and that allows us to move forward. Will we actually move forward? Likely not. Once Imus was fired and once Michael Richards went into rehab, the conversation ended. And eventually, our attention spans will move on here and this conversation will stop again. I hope that isn’t the case, but it likely will happen.

    Now, I am not looking to let people who committed a crime, go free. I am looking at the way our system is set up and applying the principles of American justice, which would rather see a hundred guilty men go free than one innocent man go to jail. So here is what I see. I see a complicated racially stressed context. I see nooses and white trees and lots of fights. I see lots of white people “committing crimes” and no one doing anything about it. I see a white DA pointing at black students and saying “with a stroke of this pen, I can ruin your lives.” I see a fight that takes place and a beating occurs (a beating which is wrong and bad and not condoned, but a beating that occurs regularly in American schools). And I see a black kid accussed of second degree attempted murder of a white kid. The kid is convicted by an all white jury after a BS trial where his court appointed public defender doesn’t call a single witness to his defense (and during which most analysts say the prosecution did not meet their burden of proof). He was charged with too harsh a crime, convicted in what very really appears to be an injust way. And in our system, that means he gets to go free. If I hit someone and am accused of second degree attempted murder and am aquitted, I cannot later be accused of a different crime for the same thrown punch. So, yes, I think the crime he was accused of was chosen because of the color of his skin and yes I believe he was convicted because of the color of his skin. Not because of the evidence. Because the evidence does not equal the crime he was accused of.

    As for the other five members of the Jena Six, we don’t know the details of their involvement and they haven’t been given their day in court, but everyone wants to attack them and convict them right now. I thought it was wrong to do that to the Duke Lacross team (even though at the time I believed they were guilty) and I think it is wrong to do that here.

    So find it funny that he goes free and the only reason is because he is black (evidence of this? considering for him to go free his ruling has to be overturned and that will come from the judge not the demonstrators — or do you think the judge doesn’t care about justice?). But maybe you should be concerned about the other crimes that have occured within this story where people have gone free just because they’re white.

    So everyone can use the “they’re getting attention because they’re black” card all they want but it completely ignores the countless crimes that don’t get investigated in America because the perpetrator is white (and often the victim is black). Again, real easy for a bunch of white men to complain when they never have to worry about the justice system not being color blind toward them.

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