Sunday, September 23, 2007
From The Chicago Sun-Times…
E-mail and blogs rally support for accused La. teens
Without this computer savvy, the fate of six black Jena High School students might never have become a national cause celebre. As much as younger generations are criticized for being socially awkward -- spending too much time text-messaging and IMing -- they were inspired to make a road trip to Jena to march for a cause instead of passively clicking on an electronic petition. In this technically advanced era, even bigotry in small towns, like Jena, can’t hide from a community wired and without boundaries.
The youths’ online commentary kept alive details about the teens arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder for beating up a white classmate at Jena High School in 2006. (That student, Justin Barker, was treated for a concussion and bruises, then attended a school function later that night.)
People wanted to know why a schoolyard fight had been elevated to criminal charges. They questioned why white students -- who incited the racially charged atmosphere months earlier by hanging nooses from a landmark shade tree traditionally used by whites -- were ultimately let off because school officials said the ropes were simply a joke.
“It should never have gotten to the point of going to court for second-degree murder,” said Tamikka Jackson, a Chicago State University student who made the 20-hour trek to Jena last week as part of a bus convoy.
Like many others who took the long trip, this was Jackson’s first foray into protesting. The case of the Jena 6 has aroused the passions of many who previously hadn’t exercised their support for civil rights.
As generations before them were energized by the fight for civil rights, women’s rights and anti-apartheid, these youths found their cause. It was a collective oh-no-they-didn’t moment.
So bus loads of regular folks -- the middle-aged, retired and the young -- rolled into Jena on Thursday to demand fair treatment for the black students. They came from as far as New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Miami, even Alaska. They packed their own food and toiletries so they wouldn’t contribute to the local economy.
“I just don’t feel comfortable standing up for something and not giving all I could,” said Charles Harrington, 23, of Chatham. “I didn’t have all the money in the world. I couldn’t go to court. But I could give my body, soul and spirit to show I’m behind it.”
The protest invites comparisons to the civil rights movement, but there are key differences. Jena protesters didn’t face water hoses and vicious dogs. And a court system that once perpetuated a racist bias now seems more inclined toward meting out justice.
The original charges have been reduced for four of the teens. A fifth was booked on sealed juvenile charges. The conviction of Mychal Bell, 17, was tossed out by a state appeals court. He was denied bail in juvenile court on Friday.
Chicagoans who made the drive to Louisiana say what happened in Jena could happen anywhere. The difference in an age of cell phone cameras, e-mail and the Internet is that, to paraphrase King, injustice anywhere really is injustice everywhere.