Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Justice That Jena Demands

Free The Jena 6 Tree Graphic

In the News: The Justice that Jena Demands
Posted by: Xochitl Bervera , November 06, 2007

The injustice we witnessed in Jena, Louisiana, should wake us up to blatant racism throughout the criminal justice system --- and tell us it's time for radical change.

I want to tell you about some young men I know. These are young Black men who have encountered Louisiana’s criminal justice system who I know because their mothers have become proud members of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), the organization I have worked for over the last 7 years. These stories are about young men who have experienced incredible injustice, not unlike the Jena 6, only the national spotlight has never shined on them.

First, there is Emmanuelle Narcisse. He was a tall, slim, handsome young man who was killed by a guard at the Bridge City Correctional Center for Youth – a Louisiana juvenile prison – in 2003. Apparently, he was “fussing” in line, talking back to a guard. The guard punched him in the face, one blow, and Emmanuelle went down backwards, slamming his head on the concrete. He took his last breath there behind the barbed wire of that state run facility. The guard was suspended with pay during the investigation. No indictment was ever filed against him.

There is also Tobias Kingsley, sentenced when he was 15 to two years in juvenile prison for sneaking into a hotel swimming pool (his first offense). Tobias endured physical and sexual abuse inside the prison. He said that guards traded sex with kids for drugs and cigarettes, and sometimes set kids up to fight one another, making cash bets on the winner. His mama said he was never the same after he came home. She said the nightmares, the violence, the paranoia persisted years after the private lawyers helped him come home early. His battles with addiction and depression are not yet over.

And there is Shareef Cousin, who was tried as an adult and sent to death row in the state of Louisiana for a murder that he didn’t commit. Shareef spent from age 16 to age 26 behind bars, the majority of those years isolated in Angola’s Death Row, because an over zealous prosecutor didn’t care that the evidence didn’t really add up. After all, it was only a young Black man’s life on the line.

There are hundreds more. Thousands. Every day in the state of Louisiana (and in most states in this nation), injustices of epic proportions are taking place in our criminal and juvenile justice systems. We, those of us who live here, fight here, and organize here, know hundreds of families and young people – often our own - who’ve endured almost inconceivable levels of violence, abuse, neglect. And despite efforts to get someone, anyone to care and to act, these young people most often end up statistics in somebody’s dismal report, or an anecdote in an article just like this. Because people don’t care. Because these young people are not just poor, they are not just Black, they are criminals.

To read the rest go here

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Michael Baisden Vs Black Bloggers

…A fight that shouldn’t even have to be.

I finally had to publicly address the Baisden situation today: Michael Baisden and The Family Kicked it at Atlanta Fundraiser As Controversy Swirls

A fellow blogger, I assume Black Blogger, chided the AfroSpear group with taunts such as “Dear fellow diplomatic and tactful Black bloggers”; and stated that “Y'all can be all "We Are the World" if you want to, but it is what it is. Old media is terrified of Black bloggers.”

She finished her tirade with “Ridiculous. Was there EVER any debate as to whether or not Black bloggers should publicly confront this idiot Baisden? Toughen Up people!”

I don’t repost her whole statement, because while the accusations contained there in regarding Mr. Baisden are probably more likely true than not, it is unproductive public rhetoric, and it’s beside the point of how we conduct ourselves in response.

As I noted in the piece:

“I was always troubled that he hadn’t given any specifics on these points, but I kept quiet on it as to not unfairly disparage the brother; and as not to cause bickering and suspicion that would hurt the movement. I only wish Mr. Baisden shared my sense of prudence.”

See, the movement, not my personal ego is the issue for me here.

We had our own little behind the scenes drama amongst the organizers in Nashville right after the Jena trip; but most people have no clue any schism even existed; and we’ve been able to move forward, for the most part, working together with the collective effort that allowed us to organize 10 FREE busses to go to Jena in the first place; because we didn’t put each other on blast publicly to where our egos wouldn’t allow us to come back together. And, we didn’t destroy one another’s reputation to the public where we all may have ended up looking bad, and destroying all grassroots leadership credibility in the city.

That’s why my answer to the blogger who taunts the Afrosphere for not operating as bombastically as she, was as follows:

“The issue isn’t about taking vengeance as bloggers. It’s about protecting the cause from infighting that will discourage the masses who are hard to encourage to fight in the first place; and now finally having been turned on may subsequently be turned off by this.

Put your blogger pride aside for a second. If your pride as a blogger is the most important thing to you here then you’re just as wrong and as dangerous as Baisden and what he did.

And yes, responsible, intelligent people in a coalition such as the AfroSpear talk to each other instead of just going off half-cocked like a bunch of wild banshees.

We don't need internet gangsterism or teenage emotional retorting; we need thoughtful and calculating strategy to forward the movement.”

Judge Rejects Double Jeopardy Motion in Jena 6 Case

[of course this is the same judge that illegal tried Mychael Bell as an adult in the first place, got overturned, tried to keep Bell in prision with no conviction, got overturned on that, then 10 months after the incident violated Bell's parole in an act of revenge]

Reported by: Associated Press
Nov 9, 2007 07:15 AM CST

A state district court has rejected a motion to dismiss juvenile charges against a teenager at the center of a civil rights controversy.
Attorneys for Mychal Bell, one of six black teens accused of beating a white school mate, said that trying Bell again amounted to double jeopardy. Carol Powell Lexing says her client already has been tried in adult court and they contend he can't be tried for the same case twice.

State District Judge J.P. Mauffrey Junior rejected that motion yesterday. Lexing said they will appeal.Bell is the only one of the Jena Six to stand trial. He was convicted in adult court in June for aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy. The convictions were later overturned and the case sent to juvenile court. Bell, now 17, was ordered to jail last month for a probation violation in an unrelated juvenile court case.

The beating of a white student at Jena High School in LaSalle Parish drew national attention, with civil rights leaders decrying the severity of the charges against the accused teens, who are black. The injuries to the white student were not considered life-threatening.

The school had been in a state of racial tension when the attack occurred. In one incident, a hangman's noose was hung in a tree on campus and the alleged culprits -- who are white -- were not charged.

Jena 6 case sparks student organizing in Twin Cities

By: By Katrina Plotz

When tens of thousands marched for racial justice in Jena, Louisiana on September 20, Reverend Al Sharpton called it “the beginning of a new civil rights movement.” On November 2, more than fifty Twin Cities residents gathered in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Minneapolis to call for an end to racism in the nation’s legal system and other institutions.

Organized by the ad hoc Twin Cities Jena 6 Solidarity Action Group, the demonstration drew a diverse group of participants and celebrated the talents of some passionate young activists. Tottiana Adams and Pierre Fulford, both students at St. Paul’s High School for Recording Arts (HSRA), performed a poem that asked the crowd to repeat “Let Freedom Ring” and “Let Justice Reign” in call and response style. Chantel Winn, another HSRA student sang a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Local hip-hop artist, Alex Leonard then gave a detailed description of the events that recently thrust six African-American teenagers and the small town of Jena into the national spotlight. The now-famous “Jena 6” were arrested for a fight that sent a white student to the hospital last December. The student was treated and attended a school dance later that evening. The beating followed a number of racially charged incidents set off by an act usually considered a hate crime. In early September, three nooses were found hanging from a tree on school grounds the morning after a group of black students chose to sit beneath it. Traditionally, the area had been a gathering place for whites only.

“Those students sat under that tree as an act of protest,” said Leonard. “It was no accident. They chose to be there to protest the racism that is alive and well in 2007.”

The response of school officials and the local district attorney outraged many Americans who view the Jena 6 case as an example of institutionalized racism. The white students who hung the nooses were suspended from school and not charged with any crime. The district attorney referred to the incident as “a prank” and warned black students that he could “end their lives with the stroke of a pen” for during a school assembly following the incident. The six black students involved in the fight were expelled from school and initially charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

According to Leonard, the Jena 6 case is just one example of racism that exists all over the country. “Recently, a noose was found hanging on an African-American professor’s door at Columbia University,” said Leonard. “Just this week, four racist threats were found by black students at the University of St. Thomas in a period of 36 hours. These incidents show that racists are feeling emboldened enough to come out of hiding. It’s up to us to push them back into hiding.”

Flyers passed out by rally organizers included some startling statistics about race and the criminal justice system in Minnesota. According to the Sentencing Project, a Washington D.C.-based research and advocacy group, Minnesota is the fourth worst state in the country for racial disparity in incarceration rates. People of color account for 11% of the state’s population but make up 45% of the prison population. According to the Council on Crime and Justice, blacks are 15 times more likely to be arrested than whites in Minnesota. Results of a 2002 study on racial profiling in traffic stops showed that Minnesota law enforcement stopped and searched people of color at a greater rate than whites, yet found contraband on people of color at lower rates than in searches of whites.

Cheryl Morgan-Spencer of the Minneapolis Urban League encouraged rally participants to take action against injustice everywhere. “As along as we don’t stand up, the bullies on the playground will keep having their way,” she said. “We had a lot of people at our first meeting. We need folks to stay committed so we can plan our next steps.”

The Twin Cities Jena 6 Solidarity Action Group is having their next meeting on November 13 at 7:00 in the Minneapolis Urban League building. On Saturday, November 10, the Triple Rock Nightclub in Minneapolis will host a hip hop benefit show featuring local performers. Organized by Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Minnesota and the Black Liberation Affairs Committee at Macalester college, all proceeds will benefit the Jena 6 Legal Defense Fund. The show begins at 9:30 pm. Cost is $6 at the door.