Saturday, September 22, 2007

Lessons from Jena, La.


Now we love Mychal Bell, the star of the 2006 Jena (La.) High School football team, the teenage boy who has sat in jail since December for his role in a six-on-one beatdown of a fellow student.

Thursday, thousands of us, proud African-Americans, expressed our devotion to and desire to see justice for the “Jena Six,” the half-dozen black students who knocked unconscious, kicked and stomped a white classmate.

Jesse Jackson compared Thursday’s rallies in Jena to the protests and marches that used to take place in cities like Selma, Ala., in the 1960s. Al Sharpton claimed Thursday’s peaceful demonstrations were to highlight racial inequities in the criminal justice system.

Jesse and Al, as they’re prone to do, served a kernel of truth stacked on a mountain of lies.

There are undeniable racial and economic inequities in our criminal justice system, and from afar the “Jena Six” rallies certainly looked and felt like the righteous protests of the 1960s.

But the reality is Thursday’s protests are just another sign that we remain deeply locked in denial about the path we need to travel today for true American liberation, equality and power in the new millennium.

The fact that we waited to love Mychal Bell until after he’d thrown away a Division I football scholarship and nine months of his life is just as heinous as the grossly excessive attempted-murder charges that originally landed him in jail.

Reed Walters, the Jena district attorney, is being accused of racism because he didn’t show Bell compassion when the teenager was brought before the court for the third time on assault charges in a two-year span.

Where was our compassion long before Bell got into this kind of trouble?

That’s the question that needed to be asked in Jena and across the country on Thursday. But it wasn’t asked because everyone has been lied to about what really transpired in the small southern town.

There was no “schoolyard fight” as a result of nooses being hung on a whites-only tree.

Justin Barker, the white victim, was cold-cocked from behind, knocked unconscious and stomped by six black athletes. Barker, luckily, sustained no life-threatening injuries and was released from the hospital three hours after the attack.

A black U.S. attorney, Don Washington, investigated the “Jena Six” case and concluded that the attack on Barker had absolutely nothing to do with the noose-hanging incident three months before. The nooses and two off-campus incidents were tied to Barker’s assault by people wanting to gain sympathy for the “Jena Six” in reaction to Walters’ extreme charges of attempted murder.

Much has been written about Bell’s trial, the six-person all-white jury that convicted him of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery and the clueless public defender who called no witnesses and offered no defense. It is rarely mentioned that no black people responded to the jury summonses and that Bell’s public defender was black.

It’s almost never mentioned that Bell’s absentee father returned from Dallas and re-entered his son’s life only after Bell faced attempted-murder charges. At a bond hearing in August, Bell’s father and a parade of local ministers promised a judge that they would supervise Bell if he was released from prison.

Where were the promises and supervision before any of this?

It’s rarely mentioned that Bell was already on probation for assault when he was accused of participating in Barker’s attack. And it’s never mentioned that white people in the “racist” town of Jena provided Bell support and protected his football career long before Jesse, Al, Bell’s father and all the others took a sincere interest in Mychal Bell. Read the rest HERE.


At 7:22 PM, Blogger Gary Fouse said...

Race in America

It would be foolish to claim that America is a nation united these days. We thought we were after 9-11, but that has receded pending the next terrorist attack. Since then, we have slipped back into our everyday political and social differences, such as the divide that exists between conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. Since we are an ethnically diverse nation, we are far from being united in this area as well. Often, it seems as though we Americans are made up of competing tribes fighting over our fair slice of the American pie. Virtually all of our ethnic minorities have faced struggles and discrimination over the course of our history. The group that suffered the most in our history has been our African-Americans, first starting with slavery, the darkest chapter in our history, then post-Civil War segregation and discrimination, leading to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Since then, things have improved dramatically for our black citizens in terms of exercizing their basic rights. Indeed, America has been transformed so dramatically since the 60s, that I doubt any other society could have made such an achievement. Yet, all is not well in Black America today. Without neglecting the issues of other minorities, I would like to focus on the state of black-white relations in our country today. I should state at the outset that mine is the opinion of a white male in his 60s. Having said that, my thesis is that the troubling state of affairs in black America is something that must be addressed and solved by blacks themselves.

Let us start with a basic question. Is America a racist country? Since I am 62 years old and remember the Civil Rights Era, I would state unequivocally that America was a racist country when I was growing up. Segregation in the South was enforced by local laws, while discrimination was practiced on a more subtle scale in the rest of the country. The N-word was used commonly in all-white company, especially by teenagers. So much of that has changed in the last 40 or so years. Yet, many, if not most African-Americans feel that racism is still a big problem in the US, and that the system is stacked against them. Charges of racism are frequently made against individuals or institutions by other individuals or institutions like the NAACP. In response, many whites say that racism charges are often imagined or fabricated by blacks to gain an advantage or quiet criticism or disagreement. What is the truth? In my view, America is-in 2007- a country with many racial issues-but not a racist country in the mold of Nazi Germany or South Africa under Apartheid.

I have often heard black spokespersons say that America needs to have an open and frank dialogue about race. I agree wholeheartedly. However, I would add that we have been having a dialogue ever since the 1960s and the Civil Rights Era. That dialogue has had a consistent theme: that whites have committed many injustices against blacks, beginning with slavery, and continuing with segregation and discrimination. To that point, whites can only agree-because it is true, and nothing can justify that part of our history. In that regard, American society has done its proper duty in educating new generations about this fact, much like the Germans have done in educating their youth about the Nazi era (at least since the 1960s). In addition, in my view, our country has gone to great lengths to remedy that past with programs such as welfare and affirmative action (which, in the opinion of many including myself have had negative consequences for black America). Yet, any observer of the American scene can see that black America is not in good shape. Any trip through a large American inner city will tell you that.

As we all know, in spite of progress and the rise of an educated black middle class that has been able to overcome poverty and racism due to the opening of numerous doors, the black inner-city seems to have been left behind. There are gangs-deadly gangs, guns, drugs, crime, schools that cannot hope to educate because of the problems that their pupils bring with them to the classroom. There has risen a culture among black youth that education and speaking standard English are for "white people". There is the insidious influence of hip-hop music, whose lyrics often use foul language, defame women, defy authority and glamorize drug dealing and violence. Many of the rappers themselves are horrible role models for youth since they often live the life style they rap about-in many cases since they grew up in that life-style themselves.

Then there is the problem of single-parent families. The illegitamite birth-rate among American blacks today stands around 70%. In the worst days of Jim Crow, that figure was about 25%. In the opinion of many, including libertarian radio talk show host, Larry Elder, himself African-American, this is the single most serious problem-the root of all the other problems. But how is it that as Civil Rights has progressed and many blacks have seized the new found opportunities, that this number has risen so dramatically? I am not sure, but could it have something to do with the massive welfare state that was created by President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s, a system that actually discouraged having 2-parent families? I have to assume that Johnson's intent was noble since he was the man who pushed through the Civil Rights Act that will always be his monument. However, as we know, good intentions can often lead to bad results.

This leads to an important point. The problems I have listed above cannot be simply blamed on white racism and discrimination. They may be a part of the legacy of slavery, but these are unique problems that have mostly taken hold since the Civil Rights Era. Yes, there are white drug dealers-every nationality and ethnic group has its drug dealers, but being retired from DEA, I am not aware of any black drug user who obtained his drug from a white dealer. Yes, there are white music executives (and black) who are involved in hip-hop music, but the music also appeals to all ethnic groups. Nevertheless, it is created and performed almost exclusively by black artists. What I am trying to say is this: These problems that exist in black communities have been created by blacks themselves and only blacks can solve them. White people can not solve them. The Government cannot solve them. Blacks-at the grassroots level- I mean family, church and community must take responsibility and deal with these issues and leave the charge of white racism out of the equation because white racism is one of the least of the problems that blacks in America face today. It pales in comparison with the problems listed above.

Yet, the so-called black leaders in America are still fighting the battles of the 1960s. I am talking about the Jesse Jacksons, the Al Sharptons, the Louis Farrakhans, the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP, a once-great organization that has devolved into nothing more than a branch of the Democratic Party. To them, everything is white racism in action, and only because of their leadership can blacks avoid being put back into chains. Most of these figures only concentrate in rooting out that last great white bigot hiding under the bed while paying scant attention to the problems they should be addressing. Much easier to convince today's black Americans to buy into the victim mentality (which has become fashionable for many in our society-across racial lines.) It is their way of holding on to power. The last thing that they want is for the notion to take hold among African-Americans that they can succeed in America based on their own talents and work. Of all the ethnic groups in America, it is African-Americans who arguably have the worst "leadership". I put the word leadership in quotation marks because I question whether any ethnic group in our country needs a "leadership". Many blacks would agree.

In recent decades, whites have been reluctant to confront people like Jackson and Sharpton. Why? Well, for one reason, there is white guilt, which is real. Another reason is that whites are afraid of being called "racist", a charge which can destroy one's career or even life. People like Jackson and Sharpton and others know this full well and will not hesitate to use the charge, either to carry the debate or silence critics. Fortunately, some folks have gotten weary of the tactic and will not allow that charge to stop them from making their point. Similarly, many black conservatives, who have rejected the tired old arguments of the traditional black leaders, have to stand up to charges of being an "Uncle Tom"-a sellout to whites. Just think of the grief that people like Larry Elder, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, Condoleeza Rice, Michael Steele and Clarence Thomas have had to endure for their independent thinking. It is scandalous.

I want to say a word about "Hate Crimes" here. Being a retired law enforcement officer, I tend to think that there is something inherently unconstitutional about "Hate Crime" Legislation to begin with. Under our law, we punish the act, not the thought. Why a person commits a crime-their motive- goes to proving guilt. It should not be part of the charge itself. It is the substantive act that matters, and it is that act that should be punished under the law. Another problem is that "Hate Crimes" are being charged selectively, basically when a white person commits an assault against a minority or gay. When whites are victims, hate crime charges are rarely applied, in spite of the fact that this kind of assault happens frequently. (In fact, black assaults upon whites are much more frequent today than the reverse.) It is hardly constitutional when a statute is applied selectively according to the race of the victim and perpetrator. But it is happening today in America. We have seen recent incidents like the current controversy in Jena, Louisiana, where a white student was put in the hospital after an attack by a group of black students. (To be fair, there are side issues to this story, such as white students hanging nooses from a tree and the question of unequal prosecution.) About a year ago, a group of white girls in Long Beach, California were savagely attacked by a mob of blacks. (Hate crimes were in fact charged, but the punishment was ridiculously light.) The point is that these types of crimes are wrong regardless of the race of the victim or the perpetrator, but it is undeniable that whites have been singled out by blacks for assault because of their race , something that many including our news media would like to slide under the rug. Does this mean that some blacks are also racist? Some would argue that only the "Oppressor", namely whites, can be racists. I disagree. When Al Sharpton calls Jews "diamond merchants", that is racist. When Jesse Jackson calls New York "Hymietown", that is racist. If you want to hear racist diatribes, listen to the words of the leaders of the New Black Panther Party, most notably its chairman, Malik Zulu Shabazz.

In concluding, I wish to go back to the idea of having a "true dialogue about race" in America. We should, indeed, have it. But any meaningful dialogue must get past the litany of charges of past discrimination and include the ideas and complaints that whites have as well. It must be stated that whites fear black crime and violence, that we dare not travel into black communities. It must also include the statement that we are weary of continuously being called racists if we disagree with the "black agenda" or dare to criticize someone like Jackson or Sharpton. We also feel that there is a double standard for controversial statements on race. Also, as I stated above, we should have the courage to tell blacks that they must accept responsibility for their own individual failures and the problems that plague their communities. Only they can effectively deal with them.

Finally, let us not forget our history, but whites cannot be blamed for every problem that afflicts black America today. More than ever before, we all need to come together, rejecting those that would divide us. That the problems that plague black America be overcome is in all our interests as a nation and as a people. The dialogue must be open and frank on both sides. Whites should not be hesitant or afraid to speak frankly. After all, I really believe we are not the enemy.

gary fouse


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