Monday, September 17, 2007

What the 'Jena Six' Says About the 'Two Americas'

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) Sept. 17, 2007 - Much of the civil rights community, and a significant part of the global (as in, non-American) news media, is focused on the prosecution of six African-American secondary school students in the small town of Jena, Louisiana.

The accused, known collectively as the "Jena Six", were originally charged with the beating, and attempted murder of a 17-year old white student at a local high school currently in a cycle of escalating racially charged tensions amongst its student population.

The white participant in the altercation was not seriously injured. But the wounds inflicted on the entire community of Jena, Louisiana are profound.

All of this apparently started when, some months ago, a group of African-American students at the school attempted to sit under a tree that has traditionally been a meeting place for white students. The following day, nooses - symbolic of the ropes used to hang African-Americans in the era of racial segregation - were found hanging from the tree.

Three white students were determined to be the culprits behind the offensive act, however, instead of expulsion from the school, they were only given a three-day suspension.

In many ways, this sad episode is indicative of two deeply historical and persistent truths in America: the first is that racial separation, segregation, and animosity are alive and well, and the second, that African-Americans, all too frequently, must deal with a separate, and unequal, system of "justice".

None of this suggests that schoolyard fights are a suitable way to address the deep problem of racial injustice in America, and especially the deep racial divide in Jena, Louisiana, and many parts of the South. But African-American kids involved in a fight face criminal charges that could lead to long prison sentences, while their white schoolmates were given less than a slap on the wrist for instigating the conflict by displaying a crude, and ugly, symbol of racially-inspired murder.

There is something very wrong with this picture. And it's been wrong for centuries.

De jure (legal) segregation may have been abolished by the U.S. court system some time ago, but de facto (in the real world) racial apartheid still exists in much of the country.

The small town of Jena (population 2,971) is just an example of the larger problem that many Black folks take for granted; that equal justice before the law is a largely a myth in the still-segregated South, just as equality in education, housing, health care, employment, and access to municipal services are all separated by the racial fault line.

And as long as the mentality of white racial superiority exists, these institutional disparities and injustices will persist as well. The America of 2007 is, simply put, still held in the grip of institutional racism and racial inequality.

On September 20, MAS Freedom will join major civil rights organizations and leaders in making a pilgrimage to Jena, Louisiana, to stand in solidarity with the young men, and their families, who are caught up in this incident.

There is a growing demand from the international community that the criminal charges against the 'Jena Six' be dropped, or reduced to a more appropriate misdemeanor.

MAS Freedom also intends to continue to speak out about the 'Jena Six' and to educate the non-African American Muslim community about the realities of anti-black racism and racial inequality that persist in America.

This is clearly a time to mobilize against racism and inequality in courts, and the institutions, of the United States. Muslims, like the rest of the people in America, must learn from this sad incident and renew our efforts to work for equal justice.

MAS Freedom Calls For Release of 'Jena Six' Suspect Mychal Bell
Civil Rights Leaders Urge Action in Racially Charged La. Beating Case
Al Sharpton Calls for Investigation of Prosecutor in Racially Charged School Fight

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