Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ignorance? Hate? Copycats?

From the Chicago Trib:
A Warren Township High School student was charged with disorderly conduct for making "racially charged" statements to two female students, police said. The student drove into a campus parking lot with a noose hanging from his rearview mirror and a Confederate flag displayed in his vehicle, officials said.

In North Carolina last week, four nooses were found dangling from trees and a flagpole at a North Carolina high school, a local newspaper reported. A Louisiana man was charged with inciting a riot after two nooses were found hanging from the back of his pickup truck. Nooses were left this summer in the bag of a black U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadet and in the office of a white female officer conducting race-relations training.

On their own, the incidents might not have garnered much attention. But against the backdrop of the Jena 6 case in Louisiana, where nooses found hanging from a tree set off a chain of events that polarized the town, local officials and experts say similar occurrences -- even if they might be unrelated -- can be especially troubling.

"I think what all of these incidents reflect -- from Jena to the reaction to Jena -- is the worsening of race relations in America," said Mark Potok, a hate-group expert at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. "What one would hope is that an event like Jena starts a real dialogue that takes us forward and not backward."

Potok said in recent days the leader of one neo-Nazi group has been fanning the flames on his Web site, encouraging followers to hang nooses in their communities. The site even has a link to news reports of the Gurnee case.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Reason to Love Ice Cube

Ice Cube not only appeared in Jena and at the post-protest event in Alexandria, and brought his children, but paid for buses and hotel rooms for marchers from Los Angeles.

Prosecutorial Indiscretion

Stopped by Friends of Justice today to see if there is any news, and there I find a response from the Southern Poverty Law Center to Reed Walters' NYT op-ed piece (which was mentioned here earlier):

Walters states that the United States attorney "found no federal law against what was done." In actuality, the federal prosecutor told CNN that "the FBI believed that [the case had] the elements of a hate crime." But because of the boys' ages and backgrounds, he declined to bring charges that could have put them away for 10 years. This is prosecutorial discretion in action.

Walters also had discretion to prosecute the noose-hangers in state court. He claims that the noose incident "broke no law. I searched the Louisiana criminal code for a crime that I could prosecute. There is none." But, it just ain't so.

Louisiana Revised Statute 14:107.2 creates a hate crime for any institutional vandalism or criminal trespass motivated by race. Walters was creative enough to turn a schoolyard assault into an attempted murder case; he surely could have figured out how to make nooses into hate crimes.

But — and this is a crucial point — Walters and the Justice Department were right not to prosecute the noose-hangers. Prison terms for them would not have served Jena as well as a thoughtful, measured response that addressed the deep community concerns triggered by the nooses.

Unfortunately, that never happened. Instead, Walters and the school system tried to stifle debate. Black parents were ignored at school board meetings. After black students staged a sit-in under the contested tree, Walters came to the school and, according to numerous witnesses, ominously told the student body that if they did not settle down, "I can end your life with the stroke of my pen."

Reed Walters knows prosecutorial discretion.

Things did settle down somewhat, until an arsonist burned down much of Jena High on November 30, 2006. What happened the next day perfectly illustrates the racial disparity in Walters' decision-making.

On December 1, a black student, Robert Bailey, was attacked by a group of whites, beaten to the ground, and apparently hit with a beer bottle. He suffered a gash to his head.

Walters could have prosecuted the group of whites with felony charges that might have put them away for years, just as he is now prosecuting the Jena Six. Instead, Walters charged one white with a misdemeanor; that person served no prison time. The others walked.

FOJ also discusses a column by journalist Ruben Navarette, in which Navarette calls the Reverends Sharpton and Jackson "perennial grievance merchants" (now, really, was that necessary? My response to that is well, perhaps if there were no grievances, they would occupy themselves with other diversions, maybe take up needlepoint or knitting or backgammon--not that I am the great defender of the Reverends, but who can say that their involvement has been an unmitigated evil) and echoes Reed Walters in claiming victim rights for Justin Barker while professing bewilderment that Mychal Bell could be considered a victim.

Hold up there. If Navarette can say that Mychal Bell has not been victimized in this matter, Navarette has never, to his great good fortune, been in jail. To be imprisoned at all is a terrible experience, more terrible really than you can imagine. There is no comfort. Everything that you hold onto for your identity (except what you carry in your mind) is taken away from you. Prisoners have no rights. None. They have no freedom and no privacy. If they are not actually under constant threat, they certainly feel as if they are. Mychal Bell is only 17, and yet was housed with adult offenders for 9 months. His attorneys worked for his release, and, failing that, for moving him to a juvenile facility, but neither happened. Juvenile facilities are no picnic, either, but at least he would have been with inmates his own age and would have continued attending school. Keeping Mychal Bell in jail with adult offenders was wrong--it was an injustice, and anyone who has ever been in jail (in whatever capacity--I used to spend a lot of time in jail as a part of my work) understands how Mychal Bell must have suffered from this experience.

P.S. Navarette also gets his pants all in a twist because he, like Richard Thompson Ford, is also handicapped with a literal mind and is therefore incapable of interpreting symbols (here, baby, have a metaphor):

Students at Morehouse and Spellman – traditionally black colleges in Atlanta – held a rally and declared an affinity with the defendants. Some held up signs saying: “I am the Jena 6.”

Well, not if you've never been part of a mob-style beating you're not. Those college students obviously made good decisions to get where they are. The Jena 6 made a bad decision, and that's why they are in trouble with the law.

His breathtaking capacity for misunderstanding the symbolic language of the protesters (maybe he would understand a literal sign that read "Black defendants are treating unjustly in the courts and because I am a young Black person, I, too, could be treated as unjustly as Mychal Bell and the others of the Jena 6 if I were arrested for a criminal offense, and certainly I would probably receive sentencing more harsh than would a young white person arrested for a similar offense" but come on, that's an awful lot to fit onto a poster board) notwithstanding, Navarette also fails to understand that context is crucial. Which is why the law provides for mitigating and aggravating circumstances.

But really, I'm making one of the same mistakes Navarette does, by sifting through this level of detail and by acceding to his assumption that the Jena 6 are all guilty, because this has not yet been proven in a court of law. (And also? Is everyone aware that Mychal Bell's court-appointed defense attorney, Blane Williams, did not call any witnesses nor present evidence to defend his client?) If it is, then the Jena 6 defendants should receive sentences proportionate to the crime of which they have been convicted, sentences that are the same as white defendants would receive in a similar case.

P.P.S. I'm with the commenter at Too Sense, who fails to understand "the bug up everyone's ass over Jackson." It just seems like spin to me. One side can be as flamboyant and self-indulgent in their hyperbole and rhetoric as they wanna be, yet then accuse the other. Pot, kettle, pot, kettle, pot, kettle. And glass houses. Sure, it would probably be better if we all spoke reasonably in measured tones and used only the most objective, decorous, inoffensive language. But emotions have a way of heating up the words. So what. Maybe Jackson does run the risk of crying wolf too often? But that doesn't mean that there are no wolves.

O Brother Where Art Thou?

There is a Jena 6 backlash, and I'm not talking about the nooses nor the Confederate flag-waving nor the rabid yapping from the white supremacist minority (all dogs are big on a leash or from behind a fence-- the white supremacists sure did not show themselves in Jena on September 20, but once everybody went on home, they scrabbled viciously out of their kennels).

Now that we're all back home and thinking "What next?" and watching to see what happens for Mychal Bell and the others, there are, unfortunately, too many opportunities to look across the table and say, "Where were you?" Where were the white liberal bloggers, for example. (This question posed here and here and here and here and more places, I am sure.) Where was Clinton? Where was Obama?

I cannot help but note that Clinton brought it for a feel-good moment/camera op with the Little Rock 9, yet was--like Obama--conspicuously absent in re the Jena 6.

Injustice is not a racial issue. Racism is not a Black issue. Maybe we all need to do a little homework. Please take out your books and turn to page 179:

Just so does the white community, as a means of keeping itself white, elect, as they imagine, their political (!) representatives. No nation in the world, including England, is represented by so stunning a pantheon of the relentlessly mediocre. . . .

But this cowardice, this necessity of justifying a totally false identity and of justifying what may be called a genocidal history, has placed everyone now living into the hands of the most ignorant and powerful people the world has ever seen: And how did they get that way?

By deciding they were white. By opting for safety instead of life. By persuading themselves that a Black child's life meant nothing compared with a white child's life. By abandoning their children to the things white men could buy. By informing their children that Black women, Black men, and Black children had no human integrity that those who call themselves white were bound to respect. And in this debasement and definition of Black people, they debased and defamed themselves.

And have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because they think they are white. Because they think they are white, they do not dare confront the ravage and the lie of their history. Because they think they are white, they cannot allow themselves to be tormented by the suspicion that all men are brothers.
P.S. Since I am venting my spleen, may I just take a moment and state for the record that Michelle Malkin is a moron? And so, also for the record, is Heather MacDonald, upon whom Malkin lovingly slobbers.

Hog Heaven Deli: Get Your Baloney Here

Reed Walters, the prosecutor in the Jena 6 matter, will accept the ruling of the appeals court which overturned Mychal Bell's conviction as an adult. The appeals court appropriately returned Mychal Bell to the jurisdiction of juvenile court, as he was a juvenile at the time of the alleged offense.

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Wednesday that the prosecutor in one of the so-called "Jena 6" cases has decided not to challenge an appellate ruling that sends the case to juvenile court.

LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters had earlier said he would appeal the state appeals court's decision that 17-year-old Mychal Bell's second-degree battery conviction be set aside. The court ruled that Bell could not be tried as an adult.

Blanco said she had spoken with Walters and asked him to reconsider pushing to keep the case in the adult courts system. She said Walters contacted her Wednesday to say he had decided not to appeal the ruling.

"I want to thank him for this decision he has made," Blanco said.

Well, finally. Although this does not guarantee that Mychal Bell will get a fair trial as juvenile. It may not be possible for him to get a fair trial anywhere in Louisiana. Or maybe the whole of the South. Or maybe in the United States. More about that to follow.

It is interesting that Walters changed his mind, given his statement in the New York Times today:

The victim in this crime, who has been all but forgotten amid the focus on the defendants, was a young man named Justin Barker, who was not involved in the nooses incident three months earlier. . . .

. . . There was serious bodily harm inflicted with a dangerous weapon — the definition of aggravated second-degree battery. Mr. Bell’s conviction on that charge as an adult has been overturned, but I considered adult status appropriate because of his role as the instigator of the attack, the seriousness of the charge and his prior criminal record.

People can say anything. Here Walters gets to lay out his own platter of baloney, and it sounds almost reasonable (except for the obviously biased tone) until you remember that the "dangerous weapon" was a pair of tennis shoes; the victim was well enough to attend a social function at the school that evening; and if Walters is so concerned about enforcing the laws that exist, why wasn't the white student who used a weapon to threaten several black teen-agers prosecuted?
A white student brandished a shotgun in a confrontation with three black students. (He claims self-defense; they claim he was unprovoked.) The black students then wrestled the gun away from him and were later charged with theft, while the white student was not charged with a crime.
Richard Thompson Ford, who criticizes the protest and its purpose and focus in Slate, only lightly brushes past the real foundation of the protest on his way to make little digs at Reverend Sharpton:
So, the demonstrators have plenty to be upset about: racial segregation; racially disproportionate arrest, prosecution, and incarceration rates; and a pervasive societal racism that is passed from generation to generation. But because none of these sadly common racial injustices have a discrete cause, none are likely to respond to the type of quick and specific reform that a demonstration can demand. As a result, the march on Jena was a bit unfocused.
(By the way? What condescension: "plenty to be upset about." No one I spoke with or marched next to or rode with seemed "upset." They did, however, seem to believe strongly that what was happening in Jena was not justice.) From this description, I can only assume that Ford was not there. The protest at which I was present was calm and highly focused and purposeful. (The crowd was not, as reported by the Washington Post, "raucous." Jesus. How do reporters get away with it.)

Ford implies that the progression of the march from the courthouse to the high school proves that the crowd was milling about and didn't know what to do:
It's telling that the demonstrators moved between the courthouse where Bell was tried for an offense no one denies he committed and the site of the "white tree" that, with all-too-fitting symbolism, has since been cut down.
"Telling" how, exactly? What the progression actually tells is that people purposefully and with determination made a point of visiting the place where it all began, where the white tree had stood and had been mowed down because that place has symbolic value and meaning:
Oh, wait! The tree! It started with that tree on the school grounds whose shade zone was deemed a “Whites Only” area. Yeah! The tree! We nearly forgot about it. can forget about it. Because rather than let the tree stand as an example of the potential flowering of race relations in the “New South”—America, really...

The school superintendent had the damn thing cut down.
And then of course, the speakers were in front of the courthouse, so we all had to gather there. There was no milling. No "telling" unfocused wandering.

Unlike Ford's thoughts in the article, which hop about in such a disconnected fashion that at first I accused myself of being too tired to read it; after a second read, I reminded myself that, you know, not to blow my own horn or anything, but I am sort of an expert on reading comprehension, I mean, studying it has been part of how I've earned my living for lo, this many years, and this gave me the confidence to say: O, my, what a bunch of baloney.

Let me count the cold cuts:
1. "The Wrong Poster Children: Why the Jena 6 Protests Have Gone Awry": Um. Have they really? It does seem that the protests have gotten significant results, including but not limited to forcing state and federal legislators to wake up and smell the racism. Kind of lazy writing, too, in that I think Ford should describe how he thinks the protests have gone awry, instead of just assuming everyone will take his word for it. And to take the long view, at the very least, the protests show that people will show up in great numbers to protest what they perceive as injustice. That is a great thing, particularly as we near elections.
2. "When more than 10,000 people converged on the small town of Jena, La. . . .": I am heartily sick unto death of the underreporting of the numbers because it seems to be an attempt to erode the credibility and the show of strength of the demonstrators. Most of the sources I have seen report there were at least 20,000 people:
USA Today: "tens of thousands"
L.A. Times: "Organizers said the crowd swelled to 50,000; state police said it was too spread out to count. "
Washington Post: "Police declined to estimate the size of the throng at the rally, other than to say it numbered in the "tens of thousands."
2theAdvocate: "By the State Police’s estimate, 15,000-20,000 demonstrators poured into this town"

As I said before, the organizers estimated 50-60,000. Even if you control for optimism and enthusiasm, certainly 30,000 would be a conservative estimate. Brother, please. You could check your facts. (Unless the "more than 10,000" was a sneaky way to be letter-of-the-law truthful and cut the legs off the protest at the same time?)

3. "Rev. Al Sharpton called their march the beginning of the 21st-century civil rights movement. He may be right. And that's just what's worrisome.": Worrisome? Worrisome? I'll give you worrisome. Worrisome is that Black defendants are more likely to receive the death penalty, and even more if the victim was white than if the defendant was not Black. Worrisome is that "the rate of increase in black offenders imprisoned for drug offenses was more than four times greater than the rate of increase for white offenders." Worrisome is that Black defendants are locked up 7.66 times more than whites. And that's just the overstuffed backpack of criminal injustice worries. In the education disparity backpack, we find that Black students are suspended far more frequently than white students ("No other ethnic group is disciplined at such a high rate, the federal data show. . . Yet black students are no more likely to misbehave than other students from the same social and economic environments, research studies have found") even though they do not misbehave more frequently. No wonder the drop out rate is almost twice as high for Black students as it is for white students. Or we could take on healthcare, as Blacks receive lower quality care and are more likely to die from heart disease and strokes.

4. "The marchers gathered to protest criminal charges brought against six African-American high-school students, the "Jena 6." But the racial problems facing this town—and many others—are more complex than simple prejudice, and finding solutions will necessarily require more nuance than a mass protest can offer. The mismatch between the complex and layered racial tensions in Jena and the one-issue rallying cry of "Free the Jena 6" suggest that the tactics of last century's civil rights movement may be an anachronism for today's racial conflicts." Here, you see, Ford thinks he is the only person in the world to understand the complexities of racism in America today. Huh. The other rallying cry, the one that Ford didn't notice, was just as common as "Free Mychal Bell", and that cry was "Enough is enough." It was on T shirts and posters, and was the real underlying motivation for the rally.

5. Ford says, "The injustice here is not that they are being prosecuted for their crime. . . " That's a given. And everyone I spoke with at Jena would agree. The injustice is the disparity between whether and how Black and white defendants are prosecuted.

6. "When you think about it, the logic that underlies the demand to free the Jena 6 comes down to this: These six young men were justified in kicking their lone victim senseless because other people who shared his race committed offenses against other black students." He accuses the demonstrators of launching a "racial vendetta." Not once did I hear such a thing from anyone. No one! Again, every single person I talked with believed that the young men should receive punishment if convicted (in a fair trial). (And that the charge should accurately reflect the actual offense, not no trumped-up tennis shoe murder weapon crap charge.)

(There's more baloney, but counting the cold slimy slices is a task that quickly loses its charm.)

Can it be that Ford is so simple-minded (or that his mind is of such a literal turn, is perhaps a more charitable way to frame it) that he does not see that, in the immortal but out of context words of the Spinners, sparks turn into flames? The fire has got to start somewhere, and any kind of change always, always, always starts with a symbol.

There was injustice in the Jena 6 cases, particularly in the case of Mychal Bell, injustice that continues, as he remains in jail even though his conviction has been overturned. But the chain of events that led up to Mychal Bell's prosecution gave this particular instance of injustice even more meaning. What happened in Jena is symbolic of the injustice endured by Black defendants, by Black students, by Black job applicants or hospital patients or apartment-hunters, and the thing to do is to lift that symbol, write about it, talk about it, analyze it, figure it out, press all of the meaning out of it so we understand what is happening so we can use the symbols to light our way to the truth, and the truth will set us free.
"This is much bigger than Jena," said M.K. Asante Jr., an English professor at Morgan State University. . . .
That the young men may not have been pillars of the community doesn't matter. That they may not be perfect poster children for civil rights doesn't matter. What matters is that it appears that their civil rights may have been violated. What matters is that there was injustice, and, in the immortal words of Dr. King, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

More Jena Pictures

R. from Tennessee sent me some pictures. Here is the march to and from the high school.

See all those people? And that was not the only street that was filled; all the streets were that crowded, and so was the park in the center of town.

On the way to the high school, we saw the mounted police behind a building.

Everyone wanted to see the place where the tree used to be.

This morning K. the Brilliant sent me this story from the Chicago Trib, which is also posted at Friends of Justice. I'm worried about the Jena 6 and their families.

UPDATE 9/26/07: Governor Kathleen Blanco "ordered state police to investigate and protect the families of the Jena Six after a neo-Nazi website posted their names, addresses and phone numbers . . . . The FBI is investigating the posting."

The One to Watch

This is a video of the march I found on YouTube, posted by TDOGGINYA. Watch it! This is the closest you can get to having been there.

Spread the word, everyone. America needs to talk about what's happening. On the way to Jena and on the way home, I told everyone I met what I was doing. You wouldn't believe how many people--black and white (the security screener at the Jackson airport, my seatmates on the various planes, the cashier at Starbucks, and more)-- did not know about the Jena 6 or the rally.

Less than Half of One Percent, Or Jena: Part 2

We got off the bus and started walking. Even though no one knew exactly where to go, we all went in the same direction. People were moving from the side streets and the highway outside of Jena into the center of town.
Even though we passed many empty parking lots, we could not park there. Brand-new no parking signs were posted everywhere (some misspelled, heh), and lots were protected by makeshift fences of orange construction netting. Yards were festooned with yellow and black police tape. The fear of the white residents was palpable.

The highmindedness of the crowd overwhelmed that ugliness, though. The sheer determination and sense of purpose and justice--oh! I wish you could feel it.

These young men were selling T shirts:

There were stations set up here and there along the route, with people speaking into microphones ("Atlanta in the house! Detroit, Michigan represents!" "Stand up for Jena!" "No justice, no peace!"), and some played music. Almost everyone wore black; the ones who did not were wearing T shirts of their own design that showed support for the Jena 6.

Of the thousands and thousands of people, my estimate is that less than half of one percent were white. Most of the white folk there were journalists, or part of the Red Cross team that was distributing water (it was very, very hot, and there was very little shade).

Here is a picture of my new friend R. from Tennessee and me:That is R.'s sign, but I carried it part of the way--she was toting a hefty backpack.

We flowed with the crowd through the town, chanting occasionally ("Free Mychal Bell!" "No justice, no peace!"), past the courthouse, to the high school, and back around to the courthouse to hear the speakers. We were there for hours and hours, and yet time slowed or sped up, or just seemed nonexistent, as if there were no such thing as time, there was just all the excitement and the fervor and the goodness and what was happening at that time.

The Black Panthers had a strong presence. Mothers brought up their sons for pictures. I saw a Black Panther stoop for a picture with a boy who looked to be about 4. He patted the boy and said, "Go out, young warrior." Beautiful.

There were families and groups of students and elderly people and revolutionaries and very formally dressed, very dignified solid citizens, and dreadlocked rastas. I did not see any extreme saggy pants. Everyone, even the revolutionaries, had a respectable appearance. Every time we stopped, we got into a conversation with people about where they were from and how they'd gotten there and with whom they'd come. There was this sense of unity, of everyone holding hands for the cause.

At the closing ceremony at the convention center, we did all hold hands while Reverend Al Sharpton gave a benediction.

There is so much more to say, but it's almost as if I don't know what to write any more. If you have any questions, feel free to comment or send an email. Next to the day my daughters were born, this was the most spiritual, most beautiful day of my life. I feel like my heart is so full that everything inessential has been moved out to make room for this. This is truly what really matters.

More to see:
pre-protest pictures from NPR
slideshow of the rally from msnbc
Chicago Trib video
Jesse Jackson speaking
Al Sharpton speaking
slideshow of photos from 9/20/07 in Jena
photo essay and story from Michael David Murphy

Jena: Part 1

I arrived at Jackson about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday night, got my car, and found the hotel with no trouble (thank you, GPS). After showering and calling The Favorite Child, I reviewed all my little papers I printed out from various websites and realized that I needed to be in Alexandria at 5 a.m., 2 hours earlier than I had thought. This meant no sleep. I lay in the bed for an hour, then got up, got dressed, and got on the road at 1 a.m.

I was scared. I can't remember if I've told you this before, but I am greatly handicapped in terms of finding my way about in the world (only geographically speaking). I can't find my way out of a freaking paper bag. If you give me perfect directions, I will follow them and arrive on time. If the directions are not perfect, woe betide.

Here I was, in a foreign country (Mississippi is a foreign country if you are, as I am, a native Californian), driving in the dark to a location I knew not of. Good God. In fear I programmed the GPS and with trepidation I followed its guidance, but God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, and two hours in, I happened upon a rest stop and thought I would rest. Four buses were parked out front. The bathroom was full of beautiful sisters, all wearing black. I asked if they were going to Jena. They were. I said I was, too, and one woman asked why. "You've got to stand up for what's right," I said. "You know that's right," said one woman, and I believe an "Amen" followed.

Seeing those buses and encountering all those women in the bathroom gave me this sense of anticipation and happiness, which got me to the Coliseum in Alexandria, where the troops were gathering.

I met so many people. Everyone was so friendly. They asked where I came from. Ali, a muscular young man from Miami, said, "You from California? You came all that way? That's deep." He promised that if I couldn't get a ride to Jena, they would make room on the Miami bus.

When the bikers rolled in, it was so exciting.
And then Al Sharpton arrived. I got a picture of the madness.
The people flowed to the Reverend as if they were the tide. They showed their love, and the Reverend was so gracious. Everyone wanted to touch him, to shake his hand, or give him a hug, or have a picture taken with him. I heard later that his limo went empty to Jena, and the Reverend rode on one of the buses. God bless him, I say. He is a man of the people.

Right around that time, I met R. from Tennessee. R. is super glamorous and very animated, and you can tell she is very comfortable being in charge. To my good fortune, she asked with whom I'd come to Louisiana. When I told her I was by myself, she said she would stick with me. Tell me, who has better luck than I do? For R. got us a ride on a bus while many others waited in the dirt parking lot, walking here and there, not sure what to do. It was chaotic. The atmosphere was peaceful and happy and purposeful, but the logistics were kind of crazy. When you think of all those people coming together and how everything just worked out, you do believe in miracles.

Most of the buses were big charter buses. The bus we got on was a little battered. Tasseled fringe was strung across the windshield. The driver's name was Red, which everyone pronounced as if it had two syllables ("Rai-ed"). Inside, there were couches instead of bus seats, and upon the couches were sprawled many bodies. The woman across from me was wearing shorts and her scarred, thin, muscular legs made me think of a race horse that had seen better days. The large woman next to me, in a turquoise outfit that stood out against all the black T shirts, had sleep apnea. I spoke to her, and she didn't respond, and I thought, "Dang, she is all bent out of shape we on this bus." Later I realized she was just asleep. Every once in a while she'd wake up and say something like, "Duchess, give me a banana," or "What about the blood song?" and they would all sing a song about the blood of Jesus. For we had gotten on the Bus of the Saved Souls from New Orleans. They had driven through the night to get to Alexandria, and were apparently the sinners Jesus loved so much. They loved Him right back. We heard a song I had not heard since my Southern Baptist days, "I've Been Redeemed" (which K. the Brilliant observed is kind of like the gospel version of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall"). One woman sang a version of "Amazing Grace" with so much vibrato my ears were ringing and the whole bus shook. The Lost Souls were so generous, offering us food from their stash of bananas, cold cereal, candy bars, and sandwiches. So kind.

It took a long time to get to Jena. There were all the buses, and we kept stopping. Red the Driver let everyone off the bus ("I know y'all need to smoke your cigarettes"), and the recovering addicts trooped off the bus, all the ones I'd seen, with names like Lil Bit and the aforementioned Duchess, and all the ones I hadn't, who had been tucked way back in the dark recesses. The demographics on this bus were unusual, as there were a third as many white people as black people. However, they were all very thin, in baggy clothes, and in desperate need of nicotine.

I took pictures. It was about 5:30 by this time.
To see the buses stretched out as far as you could see brought tears to the eyes, a sentiment shared by all of us who were outside. I met the president of the New Orleans chapter of the NAACP and I met some gentlemen from Los Angeles, and we all marveled at the buses.

Traffic was stopped for a long time. When cars could proceed (very slowly and much hampered by the crowds from the buses milling in the road), you could see all the black people in cars taking pictures and videotaping the buses and the crowds, throwing signs and smiling. The white people mostly looked straight ahead, gripping the steering wheel as if it were a life preserver. On the side of the road, a group of young white people cheered and held up a sign: "Not All White People Are Crazy."

UPDATE: Go to Che Sing the Cool for more pictures. There is a great one that gives you an idea of what it was like to be in the crowd.

The Day After

This morning I was starting to write this post in my head, and it went something like this:

The protest in support of the Jena 6 will likely come to be known as the most important civil rights event of three decades. To be a part of the peaceful gathering of so many people* as a show of strength and support against such injustice was a powerful, intensely moving experience. (To be welcomed--as I was by many--was grace.)

And then I was going to go on and on. And there is so much to go on about -- the excitement and anticipation, the people gathering in the darkness at 4 o'clock in the morning at the Coliseum in Alexandria, the masses of cars and buses, the sense of marshalling the forces, the reigning sensibilities of the day, which were not anger and outrage, as might be expected; instead, everyone unified in this implacable, quiet, powerful strength and a solid sense of resting in truth and justice against persecution** -- and once I get home, I will write a post that simply describes the day from o-dark thirty to the celebration at the convention center, led by radio host Michael Baisden. (I saw the Reverend Al Sharpton arrive in his limo, only to be surrounded immediately by reporters and photographers and loving supporters who wanted to shake his hand or give him a hug or have a picture taken with him. I was only a few feet away. I got a picture of people taking pictures of him. Heh. I've got other pictures, too, of the lines of buses on the highway, a sight that was so moving, of the crowds, of my new friend R. from Tennessee, of these two Big Brothas selling T shirts. All of which I will post when I get home. I was also only a few feet away from the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was flanked by bodyguards and police officers and moved through the crowd at Jena as if he were royalty, while a few lone voices cried out that Jesse Jackson was "the tool of the Democratic party" and that he betrayed his people.)

But I went to have coffee this morning in downtown Alexandria, and a woman came in and told the barista about a story reported this morning on CNN, that a couple of teen-agers were driving around downtown last night -- near the convention center, through where the crowds were gathering -- with nooses dangling from the tailgate of their truck. This woman (who, by the way, was wearing a bright forest green T shirt with bright orange sweatpants and looked so fabulous her appearance defies description) was the one who made the call to a friend of hers who is a sheriff, and the sheriffs apparently handled the matter.

Me: I can't believe that. They coulda been killed.
Beautiful Woman (expressively): Mmmm-hmmm. You got that right.
Me: And they woulda deserved it.
Beautiful Woman (expressively): Mmmm-hmmm.
Me: They're just stupid. There should a stupid law, and
they shoulda been arrested.
Beautiful Woman: Oh yeah, I'll be the first one to vote in
a stupid law. And I know a bunch of folks who'll get arrested.

As someone told me yesterday, some folks is so foolish, you can't even contemplate their foolishness. You just got to keep moving and do your own thing. And that pretty much summed up the feelings of everyone who talked to me about their feelings about what was happening, that this mess in Jena is foolishness, a foolishness indicative of a sickness, because racism is a sickness, and in a way, you only feel sorry for people who are sick like that, but when they hurt you, and especially when they hurt your children, you've got to step up and make them stop.

* The media are underreporting the numbers. I saw articles with headlines like "Hundreds Overwhelm Jena." Tens of thousands. Tens of thousands. I am not experienced in estimating crowds, but all of the streets were full of people. The organizers were estimating 50,000 to 60,000, and there may well have been more. The city of Alexandria, where many of us stayed at least one night, got a sudden, unexpected, and--I am sure--much-needed influx of cash. No wonder the mayor of Alexandria stood on the platform with Michael Baisden to welcome the crowd, express his support of the cause, saying, "Alexandria is not Jena." (That sounds so cynical. Forgive me. He seemed like a good guy. Talked about how reading W. E. B. Dubois in college opened his eyes.)

**It was beautiful. I wish my description could give you a sense of the overwhelming tone of the day. It was the feeling of justice and rightness. Imagine all of your better impulses and everything about you that is good and beautiful uniting and going to war against evil. It was like that, but multiplied thousands of times in this vast crowd. Like all of what is good in human nature all in one place at one time.

UPDATE: More about the noose incident at

Failure to Appear

Noted by D. Yobachi Boswell at

The black teen at the center of a furor over legal racism remained behind bars - though charges against him were thrown out Friday - because the judge and prosecutor didn't come to a bail hearing yesterday, his lawyer said.

"We showed up. There was nobody there," said Bob Noel, lawyer for 17-year-old Mychal Bell of Jena, La. "No DA, no judge."

A woman who answered the phone at District Attorney Reed Walters' office said he had no bail procedure on his calendar.

The Jena Countdown

4 more days until I leave for Jena. This is all I can think about.

What happened in Jena, as big as it is, is even bigger than what it is. What happened represents all that must change in this country, what we none of us can get away from, what forms our lives and our thoughts and our ways of being, whether we are Black or white or Latino or Hispanic or Asian, this founding concept of justice for all against a reality of white status and privilege so deeply embedded that most white people will not, cannot afford to admit that it is there and that the accident of birth confers freedom from having to ever deal with the complexities of interactions tainted by perceptions of race.

Recently I read "The White Anti-Racist Is an Oxymoron: An Open Letter to White Anti-Racists" by Kil Ja Kim. She makes points that need to be heard, in particular that whites who wish to engage in the struggle cannot expect--although it seems they do--to lead the charge, but
. . . must be committed to either picking up arms for other people (and only firing when the people tell them so), dying for other people, or just getting out of the way. In short, they must be willing to do what the people most affected and marginalized by a situation tell them to do.
All of us are so very self-centered. It is the human condition. But salvation is not to be found in looking at ourselves, and especially not in looking at other people look at us, which is probably even more tempting.

Without constant vigilance to keep our monstrous egos in check, we are always demanding center stage and demanding to be heard. Without close supervision, of course the thoughts come running back to Me and All of Me and the Greatness of Me and How I Am Affected and How Good I Am and Look at Me, I Am a Good Person Doing a Good Thing. In this place, how can those who truly are affected not feel rage when faced with the effrontery of a white person even daring to say that he or she has been affected in any way by the plague of racism? Even worse, white people want to go to the Black people around whom they feel safe, and complain. Or confess. When you are heavily burdened and another complains of carrying a feather, you are justified in having some feelings about it.

I can imagine the questions:
Have you ever seen someone's face close up when you spoke because of your race?
Have you ever been denied a job, a home, hell, even a ride because of your race?
Have you ever been followed in a store because the color of your skin makes the employees assume you are a thief?
Has anyone ever made assumptions about you and your manner of living and your education level and your family because of your race?

The only proper thing to do, in the immortal words of my friend K., is shut up and listen. Shut up and listen. Shut up and listen.

Then, when it seems right, the only proper thing to say is, "How can I help?"

What to Do on Thursday, September 20

. . . if you can't make it to Jena.

Wear *black.
Join the virtual march.
Check to see if there is a local march in support of the Jena 6.
Tell everyone what is going on. There are still people who don't know.

"The battle didn't start with the Jena 6, it won't end with the Jena 6."

*Just a little anecdote in re my own laminosity (lameness). I bought a Jena 6 T shirt on ebay. First of all, it was white with black print. All right, I thought, I'll just wear it on the plane. But it had a really high crew neck that was uncomfortable and also? Not flattering. So I got out the scissors to do a little trimming on the neckline but one slip of the blade rent the garment nearly in two, and now I have a big white rag emblazoned with "Free the Jena 6."

Black People to Be Free

. . . in the immortal words of Mos Def.

I like to stop by Che Sing the Cool for the sounds. Eyez posted a clip with Mos Def and Cornel West on that stupid show. I love Mos Def, you know, so I watched that. But keep scrolling down to the video about the Jena 6.

Probably everyone in the whole world knows this story by now. I'd read a bit here and there, and found all I'd read horrifying. It's worse than I knew.

If you are also, like me, someone who lives under a rock and knows nothing of current events but find yourself horrified and would like to help, you can sign an online petition. You can also donate to the defense fund. (Super easy, you can even use Paypal.) Some of the parents have mortgaged their houses to raise money for attorney fees.

More information here, there, and everywhere:
elle, phd
Free the Jena 6
Jena 6 Petition. (In case you didn't do it yet.)
While Seated
Why we should donate. (In case you didn't do it yet.)

UPDATE: Several of you have sent me emails telling me you've taken action. Thank you. Fight the good fight.