Actually, I don't remember ever really going there, but I've been there in my experience of how white folks work out their racism.
The story of the "Jena 6" remind me of my experiences forty years ago when I was in high school and college. The situation facing these six young men bring back memories of my first church in Shreveport, Louisiana where racism was not only alive and well, but honored in the community and in my church.
No doubt, you've heard and read about the "Jena 6."
Last fall, when two Black high school students sat under the "white" tree on their campus, white students responded by hanging nooses from the tree.
What does a "white" tree look like? God giving out titles to trees now?
When Black students protested the light punishment for the students who hung the nooses, District Attorney Reed Walters came to the school and told the students he could "take [their] lives away with a stroke of [his] pen." Sounds like a great fellow, huh? Champion of justice and reconciliation, right?
Racial tension continued to mount in Jena, and the District Attorney did nothing in response to several egregious cases of violence and threats against black students.
But when Justin Barker, a white student--who had been a vocal supporter of the students who hung the nooses--taunted a black student, allegedly hurled the most offensive of racial epitaphs in the direction of several black students, and was beaten up by black students, six black students were charged with second-degree attempted murder.
Mychal Bell, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, Theo Shaw and Jesse Ray Beard — were between the ages of 14 and 16 at the time of the incident, but were originally charged as adults with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The legal adult age in Louisiana is 17.
The first young man to be tried, Mychal Bell, was convicted. He originally faced up to 22 years in prison for a school fight. On Sept. 27, Bell was released on $47,000 bail after the district attorney said he would not continue to prosecute Bell as an adult. The original verdict was tossed out by the Louisiana state appeals court, which said that he should have been tried as a juvenile. Bell was sent back to jail for violating probation on previous conviction.
A national movement has grown up around the Jena story. Congressional hearings have been underway. Thousands traveled to Jena to protest the community's handling of the matter, especially in the courts.
John Mellencamp wrote a song, "Jena," that drew angry protests from the white mayor. "The song is not written as an indictment of the people of Jena but, rather, as a condemnation of racism," the singer says. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6flvlq7xjdg]
It's a pattern I've watched now for four decades. Black folks are injured, defamed, imprisoned, upset and organized to stand up for their rights. White folks try to assure everyone that "things are being blown out of proportion."
White people don't understand the power of the noose as a symbol of hate, oppression, death and racism. Nooses recall a terrible and revolting part of our history as a people when an estimated 3,500 (likely a conservative guess) African-Americans were lynched, primarily in the Cotton Belt states, in the period between 1800 and 1968.
Believe it or not, I have a "coffee table" book in my library that presents a collection of postcards depicting lynching of African Americans. Nice way to greet friends, don't you think?
These photos are unbelievable, but speak to the legitimate outrage of Black Americans, as well as any of us who believe that racism is immoral and intolerable. If you're up to it, do a Google search on "lynchings" and see what you find behind the "images" tab.
Don't dismiss this incident as insignificant or isolated. What happens in Jena is important to us all. It should be a wake up call, a reminder of what remains just beneath the surface of all of our lives, even after all we believe we've learned.
I've been to Jena.