Having grown up in the deep south, while wandering the rest of the country I soon became very weary of the charges of racism that were often leveled against me, solely on the basis of my southern accent.
It was a form of stereotyping that angered and frustrated me. Simply because I was white and from the southern part of the country, people often assumed I was a closet racist.
The only thing that angers me more is finding that the stereotype is sometimes accurate.
Kids in school sometimes fight, it’s simply a fact of life. I remember the time my step sister came home looking like a tractor had backed over her. She had been called on to present the National Honors Society speech for her school, so naturally she had a new dress for the occasion. Some boy thought it was a good idea to make fun of her, so after she put up with it for a while, she sat on him and pounded him into the dirt for a few minutes, until a teacher arrived to save his skinny ass from certain death. Nothing came of it, except perhaps that the boy learned to think twice before making fun of girls who wore glasses.
Well, in the tiny town of Jena, Louisiana, school yard scuffles are taken very seriously indeed, depending on who’s doing the fighting.
The Story Unfolds
At the local high school, a couple of students were tired of standing around in the sun and asked the Principal if they could sit under the Oak tree at the side of the school yard. The Principal naturally told them they could sit where ever they wished.
Bright and early the next morning, there were three nooses hanging from a limb of the tree, an unmistakable warning. You see, the kids were black, and the tree had always been reserved for whites only.
Everyone knew who had strung up the nooses, but they weren’t disciplined. Things got to be a little tense around the small town, and there were a couple of scuffles , but most people just hoped things would smooth over.
Then one day at school, several students confronted one of the boys who had hung the nooses and pushed him down to the ground. He bumped his head a little, but needed no medical attention. In fact, he still showed up at the church social that evening.
The local D.A. decided it was time to step in and has charged the students with attempted murder, for pushing a white boy down. They could face up to fifty years in prison.
The D.A., Reed Walters, is a regular “Boss Hawg”. He’s fond of saying things like, “I can make your lives disappear with a stroke of my pen,” which is exactly what he did say to a group of students protesting peacefully under the Oak tree.
Mr. Walters, AKA Boss Hawg, never found it necessary to threaten any of the white students who got into fights over the issue, but when the “niggrahs got uppity”, he was ready with a firm hand.
Some people call it shadow lynching, where poor people and minorities get different treatment under the law, receiving longer and harsher sentences compared to others.
It recalls that great movie from the ’60’s, In the Heat of the Night, with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger. I hope those lads down in Jena have a sharp, big city lawyer to save their bacon, because otherwise their bacon will rot in jail.
It isn’t just that racism is bad, it’s that some people are automatically winners, and can do whatever they want to the losers. It’s almost a fill in the blanks type of thing; They can be black, gay, arab, or even the wrong religion. In Mr. Walter’s world, there’s a long list of people who must be put in their place, and he uses a jail cell to do it.
Matthew Shepard died in a town like Jena.
In 2005 there were over 7,000 incidents of hate crime in this country, but President Bush still doesn’t think we need a hate crimes bill. I think he’s wrong.
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