Imagine it is the year 1960 and the Civil Rights movement is in full swing. For some, the year 1960 is the beginning of a new life. For others, the year is nothing more than a memory – or so it seems at times. For example, consider the Jena (pronounced JEE-nuh) Six controversy. Situations similar to this one cause the issue of race relations to return to the forefront of the minds of many and may make them consider how much progress has truly been made in the way people of different races view and treat each other. Is the news about the Jena Six mirroring the facts? Is everything really as black and white as the media had reported?
According to the Chicago Tribune, the Jena Six controversy began in Aug. 2006 over a shade tree that resided within the schoolyard. Apparently, the tradition was that only those of white race were permitted to rest under the shade of the tree. However, tradition was rightfully bucked when an African American student requested during an outdoor school assembly to sit beneath the tree. As expected, the student was told he may sit wherever he pleased.
According to similar reports, the defiance of tradition led to the infamous appearance of three nooses— the code for “KKK” —in the tree the next morning. The nooses were in the school’s colors. According to JenaSix.org, the principal (who is white) told the Chicago Tribune, “I don’t think the threat is against anybody,” thus punishing the three white teens with a three-day suspensions.
Unfortunately, the racial controversy did not end with the suspension of the white teens. A series of “pranks” followed. Immediately after the noose-hanging incident was a silent protest in which the entire black student body sat underneath the shade tree. Jenasix.org reports that white police officers threatened the black students, proclaiming that if the black students did not quiet their concerns over the “innocent prank…I can be your best friend or your worst enemy.” The officer continued, “I can take away your lives with a stroke of a pen.”
Unrest in the school community continued with a fire on Nov. 30, 2006 that burned the main academic building of Jena High School, a case that has yet to be solved. Additionally, on Dec. 1, 2006, a black student was beaten by a group of white students at a so-called white party. The tension escalated on Dec. 4, 2006, when Justin Barker was beaten by a group of black males for taunting the teens with racial slurs. Barker was rushed to the hospital and released that same day.
On that day six African Americans decided to take the law into their own hands and beat the white teen. The groups of black teens, known as the Jena six, face a collective 100 years of prison if found guilty. Those accused are Robert Bailey, 17; Carwin Jones, 18; Bryant Purvis, 17; Mychal Ball, 16; and one unidentified minor.
Have the black students been judged unfairly? Have the white students not been judged harshly enough? Is everything as black and white as it seems?
According to NewsDay.com, many fallacies within the Jena Six controversy have been uncovered. First, two nooses where found hanging in the tree, not three. The lack of the third noose raises doubt about whether the teens purposefully displayed the code for “KKK.” Nevertheless, the nooses were not a neutral remark. Second, NewsDay.com reported that the burning of Jena High School is unrelated to the previous episodes. Finally, the white teens responsible for hanging the degrading nooses were, in addition to a three-day suspension, isolated at an alternative school for approximately one month.
The reports that Ball was convicted by an all-white jury are true. However, the reports also show that only one in 10 people in Jena are African American. If the ratio of numbers between black and white seem inadequate, consider this: none of the black residents randomly selected by computer bothered to attend the hearing.
The situation is not as clear-cut as some people would like to believe. There are truths to both sides of the story. The nooses never should have been hung, regardless of whether it was a prank or a threat. Students should not have taken the law into their own hands and beaten anyone. It would be wise to realize that God intended for the trees to shade us all, regardless of race.