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Jena: the next step


Yesterday’s demonstration in Jena was a great success on many fronts, but still has two important goals to achieve.

 

First the successes. It brought the argument to the people who needed to hear it. I’m sure it convinced very few white people in Jena that hanging nooses is more than a prank or that the judicial system is weighted against African-Americans. From most of the quotes I’ve seen they are still in denial. But I’m equally sure that it made any administrator, legislator, judge or attorney there realize that much of the world does not share their standards. This message reverberates beyond Jena. The notion that what happens in small towns stays in small towns no longer holds. No local official wants a “Jena” on their hands.

 

Second, it was huge and managed to galvanize a new generation of activists. One of the noteworthy aspects of this demonstration – in contrast to many – is that it appears to have been multi-generational. With nooses and jail time the issues it raised linked the old Jim Crow and new quite effectively.

 

Third, it revealed a new network of bloggers and radio hosts (similar to the immigrant rallies) that can kept this issue alive when others would have allowed it to die or could not keep it going.

 

Fourth, it was peaceful. Nothing would have been gained by violence in Jena. The fact that none occurred left locals who had shuttered up the town, in fear of black hordes arriving to ransack the place, with nothing to talk about but the issues.

 

Now the hard part. The Jena Six remain either in jail or awaiting trial. The demonstration did a great job of highlighting their plight. The judicial system knows the world is watching. Now it is down to the lawyers to get them a fair shake. That means a proportionate punishment for the alleged crime.

 

And last but by no means least the activists must leverage the attention that has been given to the Jena 6 to raise the broader issues of social justice and racism in the penal and judicial systems in the US. In its details what took place in Jena is very particular to this small town. In its substance – overbearing prosecutors, disproportionate sentencing and racial inequality – it is not aberrant but consistent with the what is taking place elsewhere in the US.

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