— Brandon Holley, freshman at Jena High School in Jena, Louisiana; The Town Talk, May 11, 2007.

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Jena High School in LaSalle Parish has been receiving a significant amount of press lately. First, in September, there was the story of three white students hanging nooses in a tree in front of the high school, which, as KALB reported, ignited already flammable racial tensions in the community.

Two months later, arsonists set the main building of the school afire, causing severe damage.

And then, in December, there was the infamous incident of the Jena Six in which six African-American high school students allegedly beat up one white student and were all subsequently charged with second-degree murder, a charge many believe to be outrageous. Although the white student was admitted to the hospital, he apparently was released only hours later in order to attend a function at the school.

The story of the Jena Six has attracted national attention and, once again, provoked a serious debate about the state of race relations in the small town of Jena, Louisiana. A little less than two weeks ago, King Downing, a national coordinator for the ACLU, flew down from New York City and helped stage a protest advocating for the release of the Jena Six. Downing and Raymond Brown, New Orleans Chairman of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, have vowed to continue protesting until action is taken by the LaSalle Parish District Attorney.

But the story doesn’t end there. Just this week, the victim of the Jena Six, who was identified as Justin L. Baker, was arrested for a felony weapons charge after a gun was discovered in his car while parked in the school parking lot, a charge that can carry a maximum of five years in prison. Baker is likely to be expelled. After the gun was discovered, a classmate of Mr. Baker’s, Brandon Holley, told The Town Talk, “If you checked all the cars at the high school, you would find a lot more guns.”

I ask, once again, what’s going on in Jena? The Town Talk has been providing a series of great articles on this on-going story, and though I never thought I’d say it, the StoryChat feature offers some much-needed supplementary analysis from people directly involved in this crisis.

It should go without saying: there is absolutely no excuse for any student carrying a gun onto a high school campus, regardless of where they live. School administrators should take the advice of the freshman student and check all cars. His statement indicates that other weapons may be found on campus, and if tension is truly as high as reported, those responsible for the welfare and safety of students should take any and all precautions to ensure safety.

The other questions: Can Jena heal? Who is responsible for exacerbating racial tensions? And what’s next?

4 thoughts

  1. Very good. This crisis should precipitate a discussion about hate speech and its validation in our legislative chambers. And Bush’s decision to veto hate crimes legislation certainly does not help in this respect.

  2. This series of incidents dovetails with a national debate we’re having about an important piece of legislation that imposes stricter penalties against individuals who engage in explicit hate crimes; that is, crimes that specifically and purposely target individuals based on their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. This is an expansion of the current law, an expansion President Bush has vowed to veto. Some believe this type of legislation is redundant: a crime is a crime, they argue. But others, such as James Dobson, believe this expansion is an attempt to stifle one’s religious beliefs. I have yet to uncover a single reputable Christian faith that encourages violence against anyone. The message of Christ was antithetical to violence, for Christ commanded that we love even our “enemies.” As a Christian, our President should understand his responsibility to set a powerful example for the entire country, and it is equally important our leadership recognize that existing power structures often disadvantage minorities.

    How else could a group of six African-American high school students be charged with second-degree murder when all evidence indicates this is a case of simple battery?

    Hate crime legislation hopes to correct the injustice of being targeted or singled-out based on one’s status as a minority.

    When those three white students hung a noose on that tree, they committed a federal crime, yet instead of being charged with any crime, they were merely suspended.

    Jena proves that these types of injustices still occur, and if they ever expect to heal, they must first confront the deeply-ingrained racial bias that seeks to “make examples” out of African-American students while only giving white students a slap on the wrist for a federal hate crime.

  3. I don’t know a lot about the law, and I can’t even imagine why those kids would do something they knew would stir up the entire black community, but how exactly does hanging a few nooses from a tree qualify as a federal hate crime? It was obviously meant to get a rise out of the black community, and it succeeded. It seems to me that something like that could be maybe considered vandalism, or even disturbing the peace, but anything more than that would trample freedom of speech, would it not? Is it considered a hate crime now to say something that pisses off people of another race, sex, religion, etc.?

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