Jena 6 Update: On Good Samaritans And What Happens Next

by matttbastard

x-posted @ Comments From Left Field

Was wondering who actually posted the bond to get Mychal Bell out of jail; figured it would have been Al or Jesse finally taking heed of Earl Ofari Hutchinson’s words of wisdom (to summarize: show Mychal the money!)

Well, I figured wrong:

Dr. Stephen Ayers didn’t join a massive civil rights march to support the so-called “Jena 6,” but he played a unique role in freeing one of the six black teenagers charged with beating a white classmate.

Ayers, who lives about 135 miles from the small central Louisiana town where more than 20,000 protesters gathered last week, posted the bond that let 17-year-old Mychal Bell go home for the first time in 10 months.

Ayers, 42, of Lake Charles, said today that he isn’t politically active and isn’t one to “get into things like this,” but felt compelled to help Bell’s family.

“I was concerned about what was going on up there and thought the district attorney was a bit harsh in his treatment of Mr. Bell,” Ayers said. “I really thought it was overkill.”

[…]

[One of Bell’s attorneys, Carol Powell] Lexing, who called Ayers a “good Samaritan,” said she thanked the doctor over the phone. Many people offered to donate money for Bell’s bail, but Lexing said they accepted Ayers’ help because he and a friend, Lawrence Morrow, were willing to handle all the logistics.

Morrow, a magazine publisher and host of local radio and television shows, met Lexing when he went to Jena for Thursday’s march. Morrow went home to Lake Charles with swollen feet, so he called his friend and family doctor for a prescription.

Ayers asked him about the march and offered to help Bell and his legal team. “He said, ’Whatever the cost is, go get him out,”’ Morrow recalled.

Ayers said he isn’t helping Bell because he thinks he’s innocent.

“What he did was in no way right, and he should be punished for this,” he said. “We’re not condoning his behavior. We’re just saying he needs to be punished appropriately.”

Elsewhere: Dr John Carlos laments the fact that there is a need for a modern civil rights movement in this day and age, cautioning that the significance of the 09.20 solidarity march shouldn’t be overestimated, nor should it be a singular undertaking:

“I can’t believe we still have to be marching,” he said. “I can’t believe how injustice has taken root and has become normal. It appears that there is a message being sent that we can’t go anywhere, aren’t worth anything. And that’s not just black people. It’s brown people. It’s poor white people. It’s the millions of our kids who go to school every day in the wealthiest country in the world and don’t even have books. We are raising a generation with no knowledge, no chance. If people are products of their environment, we are in a great deal of trouble. We see no money for books but they keep building these prisons.”

[…]

“Now [thousands] marched and that young man [Mychal Bell] is still in jail [at the time this interview was conducted – mb],” Dr. Carols said. “We need to have our eyes on the prize. We need our young people also hitting them where it hurts. Not just marching, but figuring out ways to do the unexpected. In 1968, that’s what we did. You have to do what’s contrary to the norm to give them something to think about. We have to give them something to think about because we had the audacity to act. I want to see people marching on the courthouse. I want them using their minds to do the unexpected, to make people in power think long and hard about the weight we are carrying.”

Erin Aubry Kaplan says that civil rights and social justice activists shouldn’t wait for ‘moments’ like Jena 6 to occur before confronting injustice, but acknowledges that ‘selective agitation’ is a universal phenomenon:

Of course the Jena Six campaign hooked neatly into broader complaints against the racial inequalities of the whole criminal justice system, which is a biggie — it imprisons young black males at an astronomically disproportionate rate — and Jena provided a good moment to express that. But agitation and organization shouldn’t wait for a moment. That would be like waiting for the entire Ross Ice Shelf to melt into the sea to sound the alarm about global warming. It’s a good photo op, but it probably comes too late.

This is not just a black thing. We’ve all been conditioned to agitate selectively, especially in matters of race. Americans of all colors have come to think of news as only moments — a plane crash, an election, a lofty acceptance speech. With race, the “moment” is almost always violent or criminal, like the beating of the white student in Jena. Yet here’s the irony: The worst things happening to black people are not only not moments but are things not happening at all — not getting a good enough education, not getting enough jobs, not getting equal treatment. It’s a public relations quandary that nobody’s been able to fix since the ’60s, when we had plenty of visuals — that is, moments — to illustrate complicated historical grievances that were finally making it to television. Demonstrations, riots, flag burnings, resistance to arrests, concerts, ceremonial signings of landmark legislation — these all fed a narrative that the public understood, whether they agreed with the particulars or not.

There is no such narrative now. In this age of deconstruction, what’s missing in the Jena case is a cumulative understanding and connecting of dots on racial issues, something that would prevent every American from asking stupid questions like, Are nooses hanging from trees really that bad? (Another version of the wearisome question: Is “nigger” really such a negative word?) We’ve detached racially charged incidents from a racial context, which sounds liberating but actually skews the racial balance of power even further: Without context, blacks always seem reactive and overreaching, while whites seem calm and fairly neutral. So in Jena, the black citizens say the Jena Six experience confirms pretty much every aspect of the racism they’ve experienced; whites admit to some lingering problems but insist that things have changed in Jena for the better. The facts are not in dispute as much as what the story of the Jena Six means — a manifestation of institutional racism that’s never gone away? An isolated case of prosecutorial excess in an otherwise idyllic town? The media tends to settle into a noncommittal, “fair and balanced” discussion that avoids conclusions and judgment of any kind, at least on the surface. And that’s where we leave things until the next moment hits. If we’re lucky.

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2 thoughts on “Jena 6 Update: On Good Samaritans And What Happens Next

  1. The Justice Department reinvested the noose-hanging incident and determined there was no link between the nooses and the beating of a white student by black students at Jena High School. U.S. Attorney Donald Washington told CNN that, “A lot of things happened between the noose hanging and the fight occurring, and we have arrived at the conclusion that the fight itself had no connection.” He added that none of the black students involved in the beating made “any mention of nooses, of trees, of the ‘N’ word or any other word of racial hate.” According to CNN, federal official also examined the way the school handled the infractions and whether black students were being treated differently than white students. Washington told CNN that they discovered “it was not unusual for the school superintendent to reinstate students after the principal recommends expelling them.”

    The black students accused of assaulting Justin Barker told police they were angry because they overheard Barker talking to other students about a fight at a private party. Both blacks and whites were invited to the party. Trouble started when a group of univited black students, includign Robert Bailey, showed up and attempted to crash the party. When one of the host asked them to leave, they refused. Rather than calling police, a 22-year-old white male confronted the party crashers and hit Robert Bailey. The white adult was charged. He pled guilty to the charge and was placed on parole because he had no previous offenses. So far, the white adult is the only one who has been sentenced for any of the incidents leading up to the beating of Justin Barker.

    Washington also told CNN that the 16-year-old defendant, Mychal Bell, has “several previous assault charges on his record.” LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters pointed out that Bell was placed on probation until his 18th birthday — Jan. 18, 2008 — after an incident of battery on Dec. 25, 2005. After being placed on probation, he was adjudicated of three other crimes, the two in September and another charge of criminal damage to property that occurred on July 25, 2006.

    Mychal Bell was convicted in the beating incident but the conviction was overturned prior to sentencing. He will likely be retried in adult court. If convicted, it’s unlikely that he will receive parole because he was already on parole at the time of the beating. During Bell’s bond hearing, LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters pointed out that Bell was placed on probation until his 18th birthday — Jan. 18, 2008 — after an incident of battery on Dec. 25, 2005. After being placed on probation, he was adjudicated of three other crimes, the two in September and another charge of criminal damage to property that occurred on July 25, 2006.

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  2. Your point?

    To quote Dr. Ayers again, ““What he did was in no way right, and he should be punished for this,” he said. “We’re not condoning his behavior. We’re just saying he needs to be punished appropriately.””

    Please, no setting up strawmen here; it’s a flamewar hazard.

    Also, if you choose to comment again (assuming this isn’t just a spam drive-by) please include links to back up your claims. Am letting your comment remain this time, but if you post another info dump without including sources your comment will be deleted without *ahem* prejudice and you will be banned.

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