During the many online discussions concerning Jena, La., there was a recurring theme among many bloggers concerning the demonstration held there. The theme revolved around two issues; the first being that because Mr. Bell was not pristine as a defendant then the cause of the protests were somehow tainted and didn’t live up to the marches of the 60’s. The second issue was that there were bigger issues that should have also brought out protests in the black community that are happening without a whimper. I think to dismiss these issues out of hand would be a mistake and would damage the credibility of not only the case in Jena, but any future cases as well.
To respond to the first issue, Mr. Bell’s status as a victim with a record and the heinousness of the crime has been held up by many conservatives and some “so-called” progressives as somehow making it hard to rally behind the efforts of Jena 6. It has been sighted that the protests held in Jena on their behalf were somehow tainted by these facts. They say that these facts made it difficult for them to join in the protests held to requests their freedom. That this case somehow reduces the civil rights movements of the 60’s, because those involved innocent women and children. To state this as a reason not to rally behind these youngmen is based on a false premise, many of the black men killed during the civil rights movement were considered criminals by the authorities because they were agitators and trying to upset the status quo of “white privilege”. Dr. King himself had been arrested a number of times.
I have to admit that I am not comfortable with the behavior of the victims in this case or their prior history, but to use that as an excuse not to seek their release is to not understand what the rally was about. The protest was not about these flawed youngmen, it was about a community and a standard of justice that was blatantly bias and unfair. For me to say that I can’t support a rape victim because she was a “loose” woman is for me to give rapists a free pass if they rape the right woman. Rape is rape and injustice and racism is racism regardless of the victim’s history. If they had done what they had done because Mr. Bell was a criminal that is one thing, but what about the others? The protest had to occur because these youngmen symbolized a system that sought to reinforce the unspoken racism of not only Jena, but America.
What most “progressives” have to understand is that there is a large segment of black males who have been arrested and prosecuted in this country, so having a criminal record in our community does not necessarily disqualify you from justice. What we understood and what you could not was that this could have been any of our sons or daughters regardless of their past. There has to be a point of no return, we will not be taken back to the Jim Crow past no matter where it is or who is perpetrating it. Jena represented that line for many. Would it have made a better storyline if these were Valedictorians headed to Ivy League schools or docile young black men who were viciously attacked by a lynching party? But, the problem with circumstance is that you take it as it comes, remember we didn’t pick the victims, they did.
The second issue is one that has been a thorn in my flesh for many years. I have seen cartoons depicting marchers ignoring the issues in the Black community of violent crime, drugs, and fatherless homes. Are these issues just as important and deadly to our communities? Shouldn’t we be holding marches and protests to highlight and bring an end to these issues which to be honest on a day to day basis effects our children more so than Jena. Why are we not having icons and campaigns to stop the violence to the levels that the Jena protests rose to? Why are so many of our leaders so deafly silent against these issues that are crippling and killing our communities. Where is the national outcry against these self-inflicted wounds? Are we only willing to stand against outsiders while our communities are being destroyed from within?
I would love to see a grassroots campaign to end the violence and murder in our communities, to highlight the growing lack of family structure in our communities, and the seeming lack of male responsibility. Where are the two Reverends on these issues? These issues are not media driven and therefore won’t get you in the paper or on Bill O’Reilly, no these issues are difficult and require work. If we do not begin to address the internal issues that we confront daily, how can we expect to build stronger and more cohesive communities to combat the issues that were highlighted in Jena? This is similar to the situation with Don Imus; we want to condemn others from the outside while we continue to sit silently by while our communities are being destroyed from within.
It is time we stand up and say that not only are we against racism and injustice, but we are also against the violence, the fatherless homes, and the drugs that permeate our communities. To decry one without the other is an invitation to disaster. I say this not to impress those who would excuse their behavior based on someone else’s, but because our communities will not survive at the rate we are going. Between the penitentiaries and the murders we won’t have any youngmen left.
Our children are our future; let’s protect them from the racists and the bigots, but also from the thugs and the gangs. Let’s begin a campaign to raise up the many black men who have fallen and bring them back to a position of responsibility in the community. My biggest fear for my son is not the DA; it is the kid down the block from him or the one in his school with a gun. I’m sorry folks but we have some major issues that need to be addressed and they can only be addressed by us.
With that being said I have added a stop the violence ribbon to my website. It reflects the colors of the African American and I ask that all those who want to highlight and begin to address the issues destroying our community to also add it to your website and send it to your family and friends. Let’s once again use the power of the internet to bring attention to some long overdue issues and maybe we can begin to have rallies all over this nation in support of our communities. We have to be more than against something, we have to be for something as well.