Howard Witt/Chicago Tribune expose racial unrest in Jena, Louisiana

250px-Knot-hangmans-noose.jpgMany of you may remember Howard Witt, Southwest Bureau Chief for the Chicago Tribune, who’s coverage of the ShaQuanda Cotton case garnered national attention for she and her situation. Mr. Witt now has a story out of Jena, a small town in Louisiana that has experienced heightened racial tensions over the last few months.

See Mr. Witt’s Chicago Tribune story here.

In his May 18, 2007 story, Mr. Witt tells of an incident that happened at the local high school in Jena where black students decided they wanted to sit under a tree whose shade had been reserved for white students only for years. When campus officials gave their blessing to the students request to sit under the tree, a series of events began that have apparently launched the town into a downward spiral.

According to Mr. Witt’s article the following events have occurred since the initial action by the black students last September:

* The next day three nooses were hanging from the tree

* Once three white students were identified as having hung the nooses on the tree, the school superintendent suspended them for only three days. (The principal had suggested expulsion). The superintendent felt the nooses represented a “youthful stunt.”

* Fights broke out at the high school between black and white students.

* Unknown arsonists set fire to the central wing of the school (November)

* A white youth beat up a black student who showed up at an all-white party

* another young white man pulled a shotgun on three black students at a convenience store

* A group of black students at the high school allegedly jumped a white student on his way out of the gym, knocked him unconscious and kicked him after he hit the floor (December)

* LaSalle Parish district attorney, Reed Walters, opted to charge six black students with attempted second-degree murder and other offenses (for their involvement in the above incident)

NOTE: The white youth who beat the black student at the party was charged only with simple battery, while the white man who pulled the shotgun at the convenience store wasn’t charged with any crime at all.

Why do judges, officials, and town folk always use the youthful exuberance defense for white teens and young adults who commit gross acts of violence and racial hatred? When I saw how students beat up a black student for attending a white party, I immediately thought about Texas Monthly’s story The Beating of Billy Ray Johnson (February 2007). The Pamela Colloff article describes three Linden, Texas 20-somethings beating a mentally challenged black man who’s only offense was being black at a white drunk fest.

See Dallas Examiner Andre Coe’s coverage of the Billy Ray Johnson story here .

Where is the Justice Department in these cases? Oh yeah they are to busy looking for voter fraud. I’ll keep track of the Jena, LA story and get back with you when I have more.

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