Monday, September 24, 2007

Keeping the Focus on Jena and Connecting the Dots

All of us who consider ourselves conscious, caring, progressive human beings have a responsibility to stay on top of the situation down in Jena. Since so many of us came together in unity on Thursday to protest the treatment of the Jena 6, things have only become more oppressive and dangerous for the Jena 6 and their families. Directly after the historic demonstration in Jena, two white males with admitted ties to the KKK, were arrested for menacing protesters leaving the march, as they drove a red pick-up truck around with a noose hanging out the back out of it.

The next day, not only did backwoods Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr. refuse to remove himself from the case at the request of Mychal Bell’s attorneys, but he also refused to release Bell from prison, despite the fact that the appellate court had overturned his conviction. Bell’s mother left the courthouse in tears, as her son remained imprisoned, despite the appellate court’s finding that he should never have been tried as an adult. And anyone who saw LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters’ public performance (the 2007 version of civil rights villain Bull Connor) before the demonstration could see that he has absolutely no intention of behaving ethically, morally, or responsibly, as he vowed to press forward with the absurd charges that has already cost Mychal Bell nine months of his life.

As if things could not get worse, the FBI announced that a white supremacist website had essentially called for the lynching of the Jena 6 and their families. The website released five of the six families addresses and phone numbers. By the end of the weekend, the FBI confirmed that family members had been receiving death threats. And while the six Jena teens and their families have continued to suffer countless acts of racist injustice, a new face has emerged to tell us differently.

As soon as national media attention came to Jena, a fox in sheep’s clothing was sent by the Department of Justice (and possibly the White House) in a weak attempt to pacify and confuse the public. While the FBI had come to the logical conclusion (which anyone with ½ a brain, or even the slightest inkling of U.S. History already knew) that the nooses hung from the “white tree” in Jena was a hate crime, Donald Washington, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, decided not to bring charges. Instead, in a calm voice, Washington told every media outlet covering Jena that there was no connection between the nooses being hung and the fight that led to six Black youths being charged with 2nd degree attempted murder.

When I first heard Washington on CNN and NBC making the claim that he could not find a law that would give him the right as U.S. Attorney to press civil rights charges against the three white teens who hung the nooses, I was incredulous, but then thought – ummm – maybe I didn’t hear him right. But as I saw this Donald Washington pop up again and again on my screen, it was almost as if the media was saying, “see there’s really two sides to this story… look a reasonable black guy, a U.S. Attorney at that, says this has nothing to do with racism…so why is everyone so upset?” And as I looked at Donald Washington, a 50-something Black man who spent the majority of his life in the South continue to say that hanging nooses in a racially charged atmosphere had nothing to do with racism, I realized that it was time to do a little research on Mr. Washington.

And guess what I found out. Donald Washington, like Condi Rice before him, was a key player at Conoco Oil. In fact he served at Conoco (one of the largest multi-national oil conglomerates in the world) from 1982-1996, helping to protect Conoco (now Conoco-Phillips) as they polluted the environment, ripped off the American consumer, exploited third world labor, and funneled large amounts of money into Republican campaigns. Conoco-Phillips, a great friend of Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II, not only has watched its profits more than double since the Iraq invasion began, but Dubya actually employed Conoco-Phllips’ former CEO to write a 323 page plan to privatize Iraq’s oil fields well before the administration began making its false case to go to war. How bad is Conoco-Phillips? So bad that in a recent study by UMASS they ranked as the third highest producer of air pollution, dumping more than eight million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air we breath. Interesting how things work out isn’t it?

Well before I go too far down this murky road, Bush appointed Washington to become US Attorney as one of many paybacks to Big Oil in 2001. And in return for that favor, Washington helped Bush and former Attorney General Albert Gonzales, create secret ways to torture human beings that “we” don’t like and find new ways to violate our constitutional rights. In fact, Washington served prominently on all of Gonzales’ “anti-terrorism” sub-committees.

And yes – this is the guy who is charged with protecting the civil rights of the folks of Jena and other small rural towns in Louisiana. And since Mr. Washington apparently is unfamiliar with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which he is in fact charged with enforcing, let me help him out:
“Title 18, U.S.C., Section 241: Conspiracy Against Rights. This statute makes it unlawful for two or more persons to conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person of any state, territory or district in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him/her by the Constitution or the laws of the United States, (or because of his/her having exercised the same).”

In other words: three stupid ass rednecks got together in Jena, a predominantly white racist town, to tie nooses from a public school tree, with the sole purpose of attempting to threaten and intimidate Black students. Yet, somehow, someway – this does not constitute a violation of the civil rights act in Mr. Washington’s eyes.

That said it is incumbent on those of us who are good and decent to protect the young people of Jena. And if people really don’t think their vote makes a difference – just read and re-read this e-mail, because somehow this case, whether directly or indirectly touches on, or involves some of the most oppressive people and forces we have seen in some time. Think our racist criminal justice system has nothing to with who is in office? Think again. How about the U.S. Attorney firings scandal? Think again. How about illegal wire-tapping and DOJ-sponsored torture? Think again. Illegal toxic dumping and corporate irresponsibility? Think again. The Iraq war? Think again.

While he is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination - do you really think if we put Obama in office that we would be going through the same shit we're going through now? Honestly ask yourself that question. As a good friend recently told me, in our lifetime Obama is the closest we will ever come to electing someone who represents progressive folk - don't focus on what he has to do to get elected, focus on who he is and where he came from. Obama represents the possibility of never before seen access to the highest level of government - The White House itself. At this point in history, could we do any worse?


Joaquin "The Rooster" Ochoa said...

What makes me most sad is that that kid isn't going to come out of prison the same.

Le Tigre Rouge said...

That is a part of this story that most people haven't talked about at all. Good insight. Most people are never the same when they get out of prison.

D-Fence said...

Wow!!! I'm kind of speechless. Is there no end to the corruption of this govt? You are right LTR, it is important who the president it. The president appoints all U.S. Attorney's. The President selects the Attorney General who sets the policies for our government's justice system. The President appoints Federal Judges who stay on the bench until the die or retire. When you've got corruption at the top, its seeps down and infects the entire organization. DOJ needs to be disinfected!