Tuesday, September 4, 2007

It's Our Turn: The 'Jena 6' Need Our Help Now!

The idea that the news out of Jena, Louisiana today was good is a laughable notion, considering that the reduction in charges on two of the ‘Jena 6’ from attempted murder to aggravated second-degree assault and conspiracy would still mean teenagers Carwin Jones and Theo Shaw would face 22½ years in prison (like Mychal Bell before them) if convicted. While atrocities occur daily around the nation and the globe, for those of us in Generations X, Y, and below – this case ought to shake all of us – because of its blatant racist nature.

Sometimes I hear that our generation is apathetic because we don’t deal with in-your-face racism like Black folk did during Jim Crow. While that sentiment may have had its merit, how can we still hold onto it after Katrina? I cannot imagine a more horrific event in the past 40 years that involved and continues involve historic and barbaric levels of overt and covert racism than Katrina. Americans (and for that matter non-Americans) watched Black people drown, starve to death, and plead for life night after night on the news. The local, state, and federal government, instead of jumping to action, watched with the rest of us.

At some point New Orleans became a third world country, as Americans began to tune out, with the same “fuck it” attitude that is held as most of us routinely switch the news if they’re talking about genocide in an African country. Often times I will hear people of all political persuasions even whisper, “Why rebuild there anyway? It’s not worth the money given the risk it could happen again.” The idea that people think this way about a major American city should be a frightening thought in an era where we will all increasingly feel the effects of climate change more often. Like the ‘Jena 6’ – I’m not buying and will never buy the idea that the way most Americans think about pre- and post-Katrina New Orleans has nothing to do with racism.

If this were one of America’s beloved vacation destinations, say South Beach, does anyone think for even one moment that if the same thing happened we would not only see the full force of the U.S. government and military to save lives, but also the full support of insurance companies and corporate entities to rebuild it the way it was?

But don’t get it twisted, they are indeed re-building New Orleans, but in this “New” New Orleans (which is getting built on the backs of undocumented workers getting paid peanuts) those whose rich histories date back hundreds of years, like the Native American before them, are simply not welcome home. For renters (the masses of the Black and poor of New Orleans), builders have ensured that rents are high enough to discourage a return. And for home owners, the insurance companies have been let off the hook by the courts in one of the biggest highway robberies in American history. Toxic, temporary FEMA trailers are the most your federal government will do for those who just lost their homes by government neglect.

Adding insult to injury, a little over 4 hours northwest of New Orleans, in the small town of Jena, 6 Black teenagers who (along with the high school’s other Black students) had been threatened, intimidated and one, Robert Bailey Jr., even beaten with beer bottles (for attempting to enter a party hosted by white students) are fighting for their freedom. The ‘Jena 6’ – real life heroes who fought back against white students who assaulted them and intimidated them with mock lynchings have already had over a ½ year of their lives taken away thanks to a racist town, and District Attorney. In fact it was District Attorney Reed Walters who infamously threatened the Black students of Jena with these words, “I can be your best friend or your worst enemy. With a stroke of my pen, I can make your lives disappear."

While words like mine and others are important, the real life ‘Jena 6’ need real support. It is unlikely that anyone who reads this will be able to leave their jobs, or schools and camp out in Jena for weeks if not months. And while protests have their place, these kids need the best legal representation money can buy. I issue the challenge to each and every one of you to open up your wallets and send money to support the ‘Jena 6.’ As a matter of fact it’s the least you could do. We don’t need another Katrina or another Jena to happen, we have a real up-in-your face fight right now.

By now your minds and hearts have probably been awakened. Now it’s time to skip a weekend of church (Jesus was an activist now wasn't he), the movies, the club, or the concert and send your hard earned money to help save the lives of the ‘Jena 6’ - Jena 6 Defense Fund, P.O. Box 2798, Jena, La. 71342.

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