Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Black Boys

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: September 18, 2007

“What they attempt to do wouldn’t matter if you had a strong family and a strong community. You know what they’re saying is a lie. They’ve been lying about you a long time now, so you just keep moving. But if cthe family’s weak, the community’s weak, and can’t resist the lie, you then believe the lie of inferiority.”

– Dr. Cornell West, speaking on white supremacist stereotypes of mass media.

PHILADELPHIA — There are a lot of places in America where almost nothing has changed from those days of the Civil Rights era — except that segregation ain’t legal.

In the rural Louisiana town of Jena in September of last year, a black student asked permission from school administrators to sit under the shade of a tree commonly reserved for the enjoyment of white students. School officials advised the black students to sit wherever they wanted and they did.

The next day, three nooses, in the school colors, were hanging from the same tree. The Jena High School principal found that three white students were responsible and recommended expulsion.

The white superintendent of schools, however, over-ruled the principal and gave the students a three day suspension, saying that the nooses were a “youthful stunt” Black students decided to resist and organized a sit-in under the tree to protest the lenient treatment given to the noose-hanging white students.

Racial tensions remained elevated throughout the fall. On December 4, 2006, Justin Barker, a white student who allegedly had been racially taunting black students in support of the students who hung the nooses got into a fight with black students. Allegedly, Barker was taken to the hospital treated, released, and reportedly attended a social function later that evening.

As a result of this incident, six black Jena students were arrested and charged with attempted second degree murder. All six were expelled from school in spite of the fact the school’s own literature with regard to fighting cites the maximum penalty at three days suspension.

The six charged were: 17-year-old Robert Bailey, Jr. whose bail was set at $138,000; 17-year-old Theodore Shaw — bail $130,000; 18-year-old Carwin Jones — bail $100,000; 17-year-old Bryant Purvis — bail $70,000; 17 year old Mychal Bell, then a sophomore in high school who was charged as an adult and for whom bail was set at $90,000; and a still unidentified minor.

On the morning of the trial, the District Attorney, Reid Walters, reduced the charges from attempted second degree murder to second degree aggravated battery and conspiracy. Aggravated battery in Louisiana law demands the attack be with a dangerous weapon.

Prior to the incident, all of the indicted were good students who played on the school’s sports teams with no prior criminal records.

It was later revealed Walters further sought to magnify other behavioral issues related to Bell into a criminal dossier. Not surprising for an individual who felt it was so important to come to Jena High School and announce to a full assembly that the ” Jena 6″ would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Walters was then allowed to argue to the jury that the tennis shoes worn by Bell could be considered a dangerous weapon.

Bell’ s parents, Melissa Bell and Marcus Jones, weren’t even allowed to attend the trial, while Barker was allowed to remain in the courtroom.

The public defender appointed to speak on Bell never called any witnesses to testify on his behalf, saying afterward he put on the best defense he could.

When the pool of potential jurors was summoned, fifty people appeared, all white. After less than three hours deliberation, Bell was found guilty on the maximum possible charges of aggravated second degree battery and conspiracy. He faces up to a maximum of 22 years in prison.

New information reveals Bell will now be tried as a juvenile.

The rest of the “Jena 6″ now awaiting their trials as well, with Theodore Shaw due for appearance before the district court in nearby Alexandria after Bell’s sentencing.

It has to be mentioned that LaSalle Parish, where Jena is located, was also the home of the a juvenile correctional center that opened in 1998, only to close its doors in 2000 after the U.S. Department of Justice sued the privately-run institution after it was revealed guards paid inmates to fight each other.

There were also charges of widespread brutality and racism, with further charges of guards laughing when teens attempted to commit suicide.

Continuous calls to Jena High School and the LaSalle Parish Prosecutor’s office were not able to provide further input or response at press time.

A few hundred miles east in Atlanta, Georgia, Genarlow Wilson remains in a Fulton County jail.

Wilson’s lawyer, BJ Bernstein, has championed the young high school honor student and homecoming king with no prior police record who was arrested and convicted for having consensual non-procreative sex with a minor at age 17. “We’re still waiting — and as of right now, nothing will change today,” said Bernstein.

“Any new information coming out normally is out by 2 p.m. our time, so there’s always tomorrow. But we’ve been on edge ever since we filed the appeal.”

Bernstein’s attempts to throw out the star student/athlete’s case awakened the nation to the warped attitudes of sex and bad application of archaic laws. “It’s bad enough Georgia state law considered oral sex between husband and wife a crime until 1998 (the crime punishable by 20 years in prison); the application side of this is simply that prosecutors should never have brought charges to this in the first place.”

Wilson, who refused a plea which would have him register as a sex offender and reduce his time in half, has publicly stated he would never relent. “Genarlow has always stated that it’s always been about doing what’s right,” said Bernstein.

Those words that Bernstein and Wilson want to hear so badly will have to come from the Georgia State Attorney General’s office. Russell Willard, spokesman for the AG’s office says it’s now in the State Supreme Court hands. “What you have is the fact the State Legislature meets only 40 days a year, and the next session isn’t until January of 2008.

“If the court rules in favor (of Wilson) he can be released on habeas corpus . If the court rules against a retroactive ruling, he will have to wait until they (Legislature) reconvene,” Willard said.

A Mother’s Pain

Bernstein knows what Bell and all the parents of the ” Jena 6″ are going through. “Juanessa (Juanessa Bennett, Genarlow Wilson’s mother) wanted to travel to Jena to see Mychal Bell’s parents as a show of support for their situation. But we feel we are so close to hearing a decision, it was best to stay put.”

When asked if the actions of Dist. Atty. Walters in Jena were encouraged because of the previous ruling by Atty. Thurbert Baker in Georgia, Bernstein disagreed. “I don’t know if one thing is influencing the other; given the actions of both of the prosecutors in these cases, it comes back to the logic and/or motivation behind indictment.”

While citing the Duke Rape Case and the actions of disbarred prosecutor Mike Nifong, Bernstein offered a subtle reminder that things have not progressed as far as we as a society would like. If you’re asking whether prosecutors should be punished, I was on the other side of this, working as a prosecutor for seven years.

“What this should do is remind everyone how important your vote is, and how it is crucial you participate in the process as much as possible — to know who your vote goes to — at all levels.”

It is crucial to remember the two things that intrinsically bind Genarlow Wilson and the ” Jena 6″: these young men are doing things the way they were taught to do. They did no wrong, and are standing up for what they thought was right.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit.

Blood on the trees, blood at the root.

Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,

The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,

Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,

Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,

For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck.

For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop,

Here is a strange and bitter crop.

– Strange Fruit (1939). Sung by Billie Holiday.

Some “stunt”, huh?